The big takeaway from the third-annual State of the County is that things are looking up in Preston County, but there are always challenges to overcome.
The event, hosted by the Preston County Chamber of Commerce, gave residents an opportunity to learn about topics such as health care, real estate, internet, schools, parks and rec, agriculture and government.
Multiple speakers, such as Kerry Gnik, board secretary for the chamber and executive director of the Camp Dawson Event Center, and county commission president Samantha Stone brought up the importance of teamwork and highlighted the many boards and advisory committees working to strengthen Preston County.
“The chamber believes that sharing ideas, working as a team and supporting one another is key in achieving success,” Gnik said. “We hope that you walk away from this evening’s event with an invigorated sense of collaboration and a positive outlook for the future of Preston County.”
Stone spoke of the county’s budget and balancing the need for growth while being responsible with the money — paying bills and saving. While COVID-19 was by no means good, the funding that it brought through the American Rescue Plan Act and Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, are a blessing for the county.
“It’s not an easy task, because we have a lot of requests and not enough money. But my goodness, please hold on for this ride,” Stone said. “Because Preston County is gonna see such wonderful things from this funding, as we attempt to pull ourselves into a better position and a better tomorrow. We have to focus forward and not worry about the past.”
Some of that money could be used on infrastructure projects, specifically water and sewer.
There are over $50 million in sewer and water projects starting all over Preston County in the next three years, said Robbie Baylor, executive director of the county’s Economic Development Authority. It’s not glamorous, but it’s needed.
In addition to CARES and ARPA money, the county will compete for $475 million the state has set aside for the purpose of upgrading water and sewer infrastructure. Unfortunately, Baylor said, there isn’t enough of that for all the projects that need done in West Virginia — about $12 billion.
Small business growth is accelerating in the county. So far, there have been 125 new businesses, or a 7.13% increase this year. Another bright spot is the county’s continued population growth, Baylor said.
Brad Martin, Preston County School’s incoming superintendent, spoke about the growth in the school system and efforts to increase student safety.
Kevin Gessler, vice president of financial services for Month Health Preston Memorial Hospital and chief administrative officer for Grafton City Hospital, talked about the health system’s growth even through COVID.
Lt. Col. Jason Diaz, commander of Camp Dawson, talked about the beneficial relationship the military installation and the community share.
The county’s housing market is booming, said Jessica Miller-Lipscomb, a broker with Houses and More Real Estate. Six months into 2022, 81 single-family homes have sold with an average list price of $241,000, with an average sale price of $234,000.
It’s a dream for sellers and a nightmare for buyers. Miller-Libscomb said she doesn’t see a crash on the horizon like in 2008, the year she got her real estate license. The loans are solid, unlike back then.
Co-owner and president of Prodigi, Tim Wotring, talked about the company’s efforts to make Preston County the first 100% gigabit county in the nation. Previous federal projects have been completed since the last State of the County, and new ones are about to begin.
Farming is big business in Preston County, bringing in about $16 million a year, WVU extension agent Bill Shockey said. However, those farmers are going through a rough time right now.
Rising diesel and fertilizer costs are a real issue. Take the impact you feel at the pump for a car and imagine filling a 100-gallon tractor, Shockey said. Fertilizer costs three times what it did last year, Shockey added. He’s been advising people to use half what they normally would and hope their soil can carry them through.
Shockey said he would be remiss if he didn’t mention the future and youth of the county and the 4-H and FFA programs that “blow the lids off.”
“They don’t just show at the Buckwheat Festival,” Shockey said. “If you look around, these kids are everywhere. And they’re learning, and so I think we’re good hands.”
Josh Waugh, president of Preston Parks and Recreation, talked about the goals of the organization and its summer events. It’s the third year for Wellness in the Park. There are exercise programs on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at Bruceton School field, Kingwood Trailhead Park and Terra Alta Community Park. More information is available at pcparc.org.