2019-03-10 06:00:00

Starpointe’s star increased in intensity March 1, when Shell Lubricants cut the ceremonial ribbon on a massive distribution center. The corporate presence in the Hanover Township business park had grown a little more.

Dan Reitz is not a one-man Welcome Wagon chapter, but he was pleased. Reitz is executive director of the Washington County Council on Economic Development, which owns and is in charge of building up the 1,153-acre park. The addition of Shell Lubricants, one of many companies under the Shell Oil Co. umbrella, was a boost.

But his work on this property in the county’s northwest corner is far from complete. “We have about two-thirds (of the park) to develop yet,” Reitz said, flashing his trademark smile.

Starpointe, which started as a reclamation project on land scarred by strip mining, has developed impressively over the past 20 years. A number of companies have located at this strategic site, at the intersection of Routes 22 and 18. It is an half-hour ride from Pittsburgh, via the Parkway West (Interstate 376); a breezy jaunt from Weirton, W.Va., down high-speed 22; and a short pop from Pittsburgh International Airport.

And, of course, there is that promising project to the north: the $6 billion ethane cracker plant Shell Chemical Appalachia is developing in Potter Township, Beaver County.

“It’s only 19.1 miles up Route 18,” Reitz said. “We’ve had (cracker-related) companies looking at Starpointe. That may happen more frequently when the plant is closer to being done.”

Economic development, of course, is the impetus behind WCCED. It was formed in 1989, as a public-private partnership, to address challenges caused by the local decline of industry in the 1980s. The council, a nonprofit operating out of the renovated train station on South Main Street in downtown Washington, is involved in a number of initiatives related to that.

Yet Starpointe Business Park may be its calling card.

The park started to materialize in the late ‘90s when former county commissioner Max Morgan negotiated the purchase of 148 acres. Then a few years later, Morgan and the county commissioners negotiated with the state Game Commission to acquire Starpointe’s other 1,005 acres.

Reitz would like to begin the third (C-1) phase of development, but said he has encountered a snag with the state Department of Environmental Protection. That intended project is in the south-central section of the park and involves what he steadfastly calls “a puddle,” but which DEP may determine to be wetlands.

“You need land, money and permission to develop,” he said. “Well, we have the land and most of the money, now we need permission.

“This is all strip-mined land. This wet area dries up during warm weather. Nothing lives there, but DEP is trying to figure if this puddle is a wetland.”

A joint application to the DEP and the Army Corps of Engineers is under review, DEP spokeswoman Lauren Fraley said.

Reitz said he’d like “to see more lots sold in the park.” He said it takes about seven years to complete a construction phase, which entails copious marketing and funding ahead of the actual labor.

Funding can be a challenge, but Reitz said his council has benefited from staunch support from the county commissioners and the county’s Local Share Account, which is sustained by gambling revenue generated at the Meadows Casino.

Business development isn’t the only strategy being pursued in the park. Reitz said there are plans to create a “town center at some point,” a project that would be similar to the one that has been a big hit in Southpointe II. Construction of housing on the eastern side also is on the radar.

Dining options, Reitz said, “is one problem with the park. If you get a half-hour for lunch, you can’t eat lunch.”

The nearest restaurants are in Burgettstown and Weirton. Reitz would like to attract some to the park, but said traffic studies don’t support that – yet.

He joined WCCED in 1996 and has played an integral role in making the council a major micro-lender through the Small Business Administration. Reitz said 30 companies pay $10,000 a year for small startup and early startup businesses.

WCCED works at securing micro-loans for six counties in Western Pennsylvania: Washington, Greene, Fayette, Westmoreland, Allegheny and Beaver. But it also serves 38 counties in West Virginia and five in Ohio, through the assistance of satellite offices in Wheeling and Charleston, W.Va., called First Microloan of West Virginia.

The council was highly effective on the microloan front in 2018, completing 30 loans totaling $1.356 million in Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia – tops among SBA micro-lenders in both categories for that combined region. In 2017, WCCED was 19th in money lent among 144 SBA micro-lenders nationwide.

Running an economic development council has been an interesting juxtaposition for Reitz. After growing up near Rochester, N.Y., and attending Salem College (now Salem International University), he helped construct planes in Florida for two years. Reitz eventually accepted a job in Pittsburgh en route to employment with WCCED.

His aerospace experience prepared him for his current mission: the ascent of a large business park and a number of small businesses.

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