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Come home to West Virginia

So, I have this fantasy about West Virginia.

We know that we need more people to move here to help grow the economy.  An available pool of qualified workers is essential to an expanding economy.

What we already know that the rest of the country does not is that West Virginia is a pretty nice place to live. Yes, we have our problems—I write about and talk about them all the time—but we also have some attributes and advantages that people want.

One is we have plenty of space and a plurality of Americans want that.  A recent Gallup Poll found that when “given six choices of a type of place they could live, 27 percent of Americans choose a rural area more than any other option.”

Half of all West Virginians already live in areas classified as rural, so we get country life. That same poll found that while 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas, only 12 percent want to live there.

Upwork CEO Stephane Kasriel wrote that people get tired of “skyrocketing housing costs, pricey child care, the crowds and the relentless traffic. Sometimes the local culture isn’t a fit or they want to be nearer to family.”

Many live in or near the city because that’s where the jobs are, but the increasing trend is working remotely and skilled professionals, especially in an employee market like we have now, have market power.

“If managers at one company are unwilling to provide trusted, high-performing employees the option of working remotely, then other, more open-minded companies might,” Kasriel wrote.

We already see some of that in West Virginia as employees of companies (or the government) in the Washington D.C. area live in Jefferson or Berkeley Counties, work from home or commute into the city.

What do we have to offer besides less congestion?  Cheaper cost of living, great natural beauty, friendly neighbors, and plenty of outdoor recreation options, to name a few.  Granted, we don’t have high-speed internet in every corner of the state—that’s a HUGE hurdle we must get fixed—but our new out-of-state neighbors can still easily find plenty of places that can meet their tech needs.

Side anecdote here.  My son, Ben, lives in Austin, Texas.  It’s a fascinating city with an endless amount of entertainment options.  However, it is a city and it now has urban issues—high cost of living, homeless people camping on the sidewalks and panhandling, brutal traffic jams and those damn electric scooters weaving in and out of streets and sidewalks.

I think he’ll move away within a few years and, like many of his generation who can work remotely, he will be looking for the next cool place that offers some of the amenities he wants, but also someplace he can afford and drive around without getting stuck in endless traffic.

I’m not sure he’ll end up back in West Virginia, but that’s alright. There are hundreds of thousands of “Bens” out there who might just discover what we already know.

West Virginia is a great place to call home.







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Huttonsville inmate dies in assault incident

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — An inmate at the Huttonsville Correctional Center died Wednesday.

According to the state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, 53-year-old Allen Eugene Longwell was assaulted in the housing area of the prison. Officials said a makeshift weapon possibly used was found at the scene.

Staff performed medical services, and EMTs were summoned as well. Longwell, of New Martinsville, died 30 minutes after he was found.

Longwell was serving a sentence for incest, first-degree sexual assault and child abuse by a parent resulting in injury. His minimum discharge date was July 2021.

A potential suspect has been identified. An investigation is underway.

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Bridgeport police arrest bank robbery suspect

BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. — Bridgeport police have arrested a man accused of robbing a bank earlier in the week.

Officers took 35-year-old Christopher Figueroa in custody Wednesday at a motel on Locust Avenue in Fairmont.

According to investigators, Figueroa was unarmed and used a note to demand money from a teller.

Figueroa faces charges of robbery of a banking institution. He also has several outstanding state warrants. His bond was set at $300,000.

Bridgeport Police Chief John Walker said details of the investigation were kept confidential because there was no immediate threat to the public.

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Mooney among Republicans involved in impeachment protest

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives brought a closed-door deposition to a halt on Wednesday by entering a secure room where the hearing was taking place.

More than two dozen lawmakers, including West Virginia’s Alex Mooney, were part of the demonstration, which delayed the deposition by five hours. The testimony was part of the House’s impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, which Republicans have argued should be held entirely in an open setting.

Members of the House’s Oversight and Reform, Foreign Affairs, and Intelligence committees were scheduled to hear testimony Wednesday morning from Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Laura Cooper; her responsibilities involve policy with Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia.

Lawmakers heard the deposition in a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, a secure room where classified briefings are held. Lawmakers not part of the committees involved in the impeachment inquiry could not participate.

Mooney called the impeachment inquiry a “kangaroo court,” adding West Virginians expect him to defend the president from impeachment.

“I’ve been urging for a while for members to go down there and listen to the testimonies accusing the president of things,” he told MetroNews. “It’s all very one-sided because the president is not allowed to have his legal counsel present, he’s not allowed to cross-examine witnesses, (and) he’s not allowed to offer counter-evidence. It’s a completely one-sided hearing.”

Republican committee members have equal time to ask questions in hearings, but Mooney said the process is unfair because most representatives cannot hear evidence or question witnesses.

“Most of America has their representative unable to represent them at these hearings,” he said. “This is an investigation, openly stated, to impeach President Trump. That is what they are trying to do.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced the impeachment inquiry on Sept. 24 in light of a call between Trump and Ukraine’s leader in which the president referenced investigating former Vice President Joe Biden and his son. Mooney told MetroNews earlier this month the president did nothing wrong in requesting such action.

When asked on Wednesday about the impeachment inquiry process, Mooney said everything should take place in an open session.

“There’s nothing going on there that would require a closed meeting,” he said.

A video by the Washington Examiner shows Mooney walking toward the secure meeting room holding his cell phone. The devices are not allowed in a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility. Mooney later released a video he took with his phone showing him walking toward the meeting room and being told he and other lawmakers cannot bring cameras inside.

Here is the video of me before entering the SCIF hearing room to expose Adam Schiff and the Democrats secret impeachment hearing to demand transparency for West Virginians and the American people.

— Rep. Alex Mooney (@RepAlexMooney) October 23, 2019

“You go down that hallway 30 feet or so. There’s another door that’s locked, and behind that door is the actual SCIF,” Mooney told MetroNews. “In that hallway, there are cubbyholes and cubicles. They asked us to turn our phones off and put the phones in those places. You can’t give your phone up until you are actually in that hallway, so there’s a misunderstanding there. Nobody had their phones on in the SCIF, Republican or Democrat. That’s fine, that’s fair.”

According to Mooney, House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., immediately left the room once the group arrived, as did Cooper.

Mooney’s office on Wednesday afternoon released an audio report of the demonstration that the representative recorded.

BREAKING–> My report from inside the SCIF hearing room where we are exposing Adam Schiff’s secret so-called impeachment inquiry.

— Rep. Alex Mooney (@RepAlexMooney) October 23, 2019

“I’m calling you from the SCIF on a secure phone right now. We had to give up our cell phones as we were coming in because you couldn’t have them there,” Mooney says in the recording. “Of course, they are not having a hearing anyway. It’s just a bunch of Republicans in the room right now waiting for the information so we can represent our constituents.”

Mooney later told MetroNews the phone call was made in a nearby room using a secure phone.

“That’s when I called into the office and had them record me just explaining what is happening,” he said.

Schiff later thanked Cooper for her participation and criticized the protesting lawmakers.

“Today, Laura Cooper did her lawful duty and answered questions from both parties. She did so notwithstanding efforts by the President to stop her, and when those failed, efforts by his GOP allies in Congress to do the same,” he tweeted. “We will not be deterred from revealing the truth.”

Rep. Carol Miller, R-W.Va., stood beside Mooney and other Republican colleagues in a press conference criticizing the inquiry before the group entered the meeting room. She said on Twitter lawmakers and the public “deserve the same transparency.”

Miller serves on the House Oversight and Reform Committee, and a spokesperson confirmed she was in the room when Republicans entered.

The communications director for Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., said he did not participate in the protest. He does not serve on any of the committees responsible for the impeachment inquiry.

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Marshall safety Brandon Drayton suspended following arrest

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Marshall safety Brandon Drayton has been suspended from all team-related activities following his arrest Wednesday afternoon on charges of strangulation and domestic battery.

Brandon Drayton

The criminal complaint says Drayton, 22, was spotted by a Marshall University police officer grabbing a female victim around the neck and shoulder area and yelling at her Wednesday just after noon.

The incident occurred in the 400 block of 21st Street, and the victim had red marks around her neck and chest area, according to investigators.

Drayton, a junior, is fourth on the Herd with 46 tackles this season. The Largo, Fla., native has 159 career tackles in 32 games.

Drayton was taken to Western Regional Jail and his bond was set at $55,000.

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WVU economist: Raleigh County will continue to be commerce driver for southern region

BECKLEY, W.Va. — The 2019 New River Gorge Area Economic Outlook forum was held in Beckley on Wednesday, with a wide-ranging discussion of promising developments and future challenges for southern West Virginia’s economic health.

John Deskins, the executive director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at West Virginia University, was the guest speaker for the annual event, which included a summary of industrial and small business activity in the region, hiring trends, and growth projections through 2024.

During his presentation, Deskins noted Raleigh County as being the economic center for southern West Virginia, accounting for nearly two-thirds of the four-county employment base, which includes Fayette, Nicholas and Summers counties. He told MetroNews much of the growth since the beginning of 2017 has been generated in Raleigh County, with employers adding nearly 1,300 jobs.

“We have a more diversified industrial mix, more things are happening here in Raleigh,” he said. “The pattern we’ve seen in recent years is the more urban counties have been doing better, the more rural counties have been facing more challenges. Raleigh’s more urban in nature, more of a manufacturing base, in some ways. That helps the county, fundamentally.”


John Deskins

The county’s per capita income averaged $39,800 during 2018, ranking it 15th-highest among West Virginia’s 55 counties and slightly below the statewide average. The countywide unemployment rate is projected to remain near 5% through 2024.

Though he acknowledged coal has long-standing historical ties to the region’s economic base, Deskins said the future of the domestic mining industry likely will be, at best, problematic for workers.

“We’re more dependent on exports now than we use to be. Exports have been a big part of the reason why coal has bounced back from 80 to 95 million tons over the past three years, but export markets just tend to be more volatile than what we see with domestic markets,” he said. “We expect coal, generally, to be stable with some gradual erosion over the next few years, but there’s just more uncertainty because of that greater reliance on exports.”

Deskins said he expects travel and tourism-related businesses to continue growing at a rate comparable to the rate of expansion over the previous decade, creating an increasing element of commerce diversity.

“We don’t just diversify into random things, right? We diversify into areas where have a natural comparative advantage. That comparative advantage is very important in West Virginia, with the natural beauty, with the scenic amenities that we have, with outdoor recreation and hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, whitewater rafting. We have such great assets. There’s so much more potential for us to capitalize on those assets,” he said.

According to Deskins, the region will continue to experience loss of population because of migration and a higher-than-average mortality rate partly attributable to the ongoing drug abuse crisis in southern West Virginia, though he predicted the trend would be somewhat offset in Raleigh County.

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Keller lays out organizational vision for Yeager Airport

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — While addressing the airport’s board one month into fully taking over as Yeager Airport director, Nick Keller laid out a vision.

Ideas of how to achieve the vision of “To become the most important economic engine for the state through advances in aviation and education,” was discussed Wednesday during the airport’s monthly board meeting.

Nick Keller

“How we get there is to create a positive customer experience,” Keller told MetroNews. “We want to have a facility that’s modern, updated, that looks nice. Yeager Airport is the first and last impression of the state of West Virginia for hundreds of thousands of people a year.”

The organizational vision was highlighted by nine bullet points including creating a positive customer experience, building a U.S. Customs & Border Protection facility, investing in employees, a runway safety extension project, investing in aviation education, increasing air service, growing the Capital Jet Center, increasing military operations, and improving facilities at Coonskin Park.

Keller said the new Customs building will be built next to the Capital Jet Center terminal. Plans for the building were announced in July for the $2 million and Keller expects it to open up in the summer of 2020.

In more of a long-term goal, Keller said he would like the airport to construct a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) standard 1,000 foot-long runway safety area at each end of the runway and achieve a runway length of 8,000 feet. The airport wants 10,000 feet of flat area.

The new area would go well with the general aviation roadway finished for the Marshall University School of Aviation coming to the facility. Keller said that will go hand-in-hand with the educational advancement of the aviation industry in the state.

To increase and improve air services at Yeager, the airport aims to attract a low-cost carrier and add services to New York, Florida, Dallas, and Houston, among other cities. The airport had a service to LaGuardia seven years ago.

Overall, the airport has a goal of 225,000 enplanements within three years. Yeager Airport topped out at 317,000 enplanements in 2005, according to Keller.

Through all of these goals, Keller said the past month has been establishing a path for them with employees during his first few weeks on the job.

“In the last month, we’ve met with almost all of the employees in a town hall setting to go over the vision of the airport,” Keller said. “We went over the values that we expect from our employees and what they should expect from us, and also talk about how we are going to get there and how we are going to achieve the vision of the future.”

Keller was selected as the next Yeager Airport Director on September 18 at the last board meeting.

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Bob Huggins appears content to let West Virginia’s play do the talking

Perhaps media members assembled at the Big 12 basketball media tip-off were too in awe of Bob Huggins’ outfit to ask him any questions.

Undoubtedly using one of college basketball’s lowest personal wardrobe budgets on an annual basis, Huggins’ pullovers are his in-game trademark. But he was far more nattily attired at media day, wearing two-thirds of a three-piece suit featuring blue-and-gold leather shoes and a WVU-themed waistcoat.

Today’s outfit for @CoachHuggs at #Big12MBB Media Day.

— WVU Basketball (@WVUhoops) October 23, 2019

Once he got behind the microphone, Huggins was asked a whopping two questions after the following opening statement:

“We’re ready to get started. That’s all I’ve got to say about it.”

One of the questions wasn’t about the Mountaineers, but his impact on the rules committee’s efforts to clean up play in the post.

“How are you going to clean up post play when you’ve got two 6-foot-10, 275-pound guys leaning up on each other?” Huggins asked. “There’s going to be contact. A thing that needs to be called is if they’re displaced. If it affects their shot, you shouldn’t be able to do that.

“But this thing where we’re going to have a no-contact sport? Those people have never played our game. You’ve got 10 big, strong, fast guys in a confined area. There’s going to be some contact.”

Huggins was also asked about the development of sophomore power forward Derek Culver.

“Derek’s not going to change how he plays. That’s his identity,” Huggins said. “[Last season] would have given him some confidence, but other than that, I’m not sure what it would have done for him. Why don’t you ask Derek that? He’ll probably lie to you, but you should ask Derek anyway.”

Fortunately, Culver was a bit more effusive when questioned by Big 12 Now.

“He hit it on the head,” Culver said of Huggins’ description. “I can play aggressive at times and I can try to shy away. But the times I shy away from making contact with players, I don’t really get into my game like I want to. Physicality kind of helps me playing in the post.”

Culver averaged 11.5 points and 9.9 rebounds per game as a freshman. He also picked up four or more fouls in eight of his 26 games.

“Coach threw me in the fire early, and I had to make do with what I had,” Culver said.

The Youngstown, Ohio native shared some details about the less-gruff side of Huggins since it wasn’t necessarily on display Wednesday. Culver was suspended for West Virginia’s first eight games last season, and now he’s thankful it happened.

“Huggs really helped me other than just basketball,” Culver said. “Him sitting me down and teaching me life lessons — if you say you’re going to do something, you have to be committed — that really showed me a lot outside of basketball. That’s how I know Huggs really, truly cares for me as a person.

“Huggs will go to the very, very last straw to bat for you. I don’t want to sound like the cliche ‘Oh, the coach does that.’ But for you to see a person go out to the point where — it could be him dealing with whoever, and you have confidence Huggs has your back.

“People don’t realize — I don’t want to say he has a soft side, because there’s nothing soft about Huggs. But his love that he has for his players is what people don’t really see. On camera he might be fired up and rowdy, but after the game he’ll be the first to hug you and tell you good game.”

Huggins and the Mountaineers are picked fifth in the league by fellow coaches in this year’s preseason poll following a disappointing 15-21 season that saw West Virginia finish last in the Big 12.

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Concord makes changes, investigation continues after baby left unattended

ATHENS, W.Va. — An investigation is underway after workers at Concord University’s on-campus Child Development Center left a baby boy unattended earlier this week.


Charles Becker

Concord Vice President for Business and Finance Charles Becker tells MetroNews children that are part of the child care center are cared for in the upstairs and downstairs of a building on campus. The children are transferred upstairs during the afternoon to make it easier for pick-up. He said the incident under investigation happened Monday.

“A child was left sleeping in a crib in one of the classrooms at that lower level and not brought to the upper level. This wasn’t discovered until the parent came to pick-up the baby about an hour later,” Becker said.

Two workers have been suspended while the investigation takes place. Becker said the information has been reported to the state DHHR’s Child Protective Services and those in charge of child care center licensing. Becker said he didn’t know how long the state investigation would take.

It’s only natural for the mother to be upset, Becker said.

“I can only imagine that she was upset that her child wasn’t readily available where she expected him to be,” he said.

The baby was unharmed.

“Fortunately it did not have a bad outcome and we’re thankful for that,” Becker said.

The center was caring for 46 children Monday ranging from infants to middle school-aged. Becker said the center has had a good track record. He said it’s used by faculty, staff, students and the community. Becker said Concord takes what happened Monday very seriously.

“We’re reviewing what it is we do (in transferring children between floors) and what’s our understanding of how that takes place. We’ve already implemented some measures to further tighten up that process and we may further things down the road when have the opportunity to look at it more closely,” Becker said.

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West Virginia Lottery rolls out games at Walmart stores

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia Lottery is finding its frontier at Walmart.

After announcing a few weeks ago that automated lottery machines would appear in Walmart Supercenter locations in West Virginia for the first time, the rollout is well under way.

Kayla Brown Giordano

“It’s all about making Lottery relevant,” said Kayla Brown Giordano, deputy director of marketing for West Virginia Lottery.

“You have to have the exposure, the availability of the product and also secure that integrity. They have what we need. They have the volume and traffic counts.”

Thirty-one stores are now live and selling traditional lottery products, Giordano said. Five more stores in West Virginia will go live following the holiday season, she said.

That’s in addition to all the Walmart fuel centers selling lottery products.

Those include scratch off tickets and draw games that include Powerball, Mega Millions, Daily 3, Daily 4 and Cash 25

The move to get Walmart going with lottery games took place from Sept. 30 to Oct. 17. But discussions between Walmart and Lottery began in 2014.

Customers will typically find lottery products up front in the stores, but the displays are not meant to appear dominant. The machines are smaller than player-operated machines at other locations.

“Their placement varies, but typically it is near your self-checkouts,” Giordano said.

Walmart had avoided selling lottery products across the country until 2011 when the mega chain decided to try selling in Florida stores. Since then, the Walmart has expanded to additional states and now West Virginia.

For West Virginia, Giordano said, the expansion to Walmart means “long-term incremental growth.”

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