As hard as it may be to imagine, the sprawling 330,000-square-foot Mountaintop Beverage facility is a fraction of the size it could be.
The business specializing in shelf-stable milk, coffee products, protein shakes and plant-based beverages has already started production, but its CEO, Jeffrey Sokal, says it could be doing so much more. After all, they designed a 750,000-square-foot facility — but the promised infrastructure that would allow the bottling center to expand to full capacity hasn’t been delivered.
As an incentive to bring Mountaintop Beverage to West Virginia, the state promised better interstate access for Mountaintop’s trucks. That “better access” is supposed to take the form of the Harmony Grove interchange, connecting the Morgantown Industrial Park to Interstate 79, so trucks don’t have to drive through Westover.
Back in February, the Monongalia County Commission was told by the Division of Highways the Harmony Grove project was four years out. This month, Glenn Adrian, co-owner of the MIP, said he’s hopeful the new interchange will be under construction in 2024 and open in 2025.
We hope Adrian’s estimate turns out to be the correct one.
We know there are millions of miles of existing roads in West Virginia that need work just to be passable. And we know there is limited time, money, resources and personnel to get all that work done, let alone start any major projects. But if West Virginia wants to promote itself as a business-friendly state, it needs to make the Harmony Grove interchange a priority.
As Delegate Joe Statler has said, the rest of the state looks at Monongalia County and Morgantown, and “that look that comes across everybody’s face is ‘You guys are the people with the golden spoon in your mouth. How dare you come and ask us for anything. You have everything you need now.’ ” And that mentality has impacted the timeline for Harmony Grove.
How does it make West Virginia look when it promises a business increased infrastructure if that company will locate here — then reneges on the deal? What does it say to companies when their projects are put on the back burner because they built in up-and-coming business areas?
Sokal is enthusiastic about West Virginia and providing opportunity for West Virginians — but he’s still a businessman, and he’s indicated Mountaintop Beverage probably wouldn’t have come to the Mountain State if not for the promised interstate access.
Deprioritizing the Harmony Grove interchange tells other businesses that West Virginia will make whatever promises it takes to convince a company to come here, but the state won’t honor its commitments once the business has set up shop. That is not a precedent an economically developing state should want to set.