Newell, WV – A Republican House of Delegates member believes state government should give more attention to assisting existing businesses than new enterprises “who promise the sky and may or may not deliver.”
Delegate Patrick McGeehan of Hancock County made his points today on the “Tom Roten Morning Show,” a Huntington radio program.
In a separate interview with WV Statewide News, McGeehan said Republican Governor Jim Justice claimed to agree with him when the pair first met to discuss economic development in McGeehan’s home Northern Panhandle territory.
Specifically, he expressed frustration with promises he said were made to a “centuries-old” West Virginia business that never materialized.
“It’s like if you go to the development people and tell them you’re from West Virginia they aren’t interested in you,” the delegate said.
He specifically detailed his work with the Homer Laughlin (Fiesta Wear) China Company, located in Newell. That company, which at one time was the nation’s largest distributor of crockery, moved the entire company’s operation to the Northern Panhandle in 1907.
Since their association with Fiesta Ware there are now company locations in Ohio.
McGeehan said he talked with Justice about the company and what its presence had meant to the state and area. He pointed out that at one time the plant had employed nearly 1,000 people.
Justice appeared interested in the company and eventually meetings were held with company officials, the delegate, and the governor.
“I just asked the governor if we couldn’t help a local company expand and retain or even increase their workforce,” McGeehan said.
The delegate said he pointed out to the chief executive that Fiesta Ware’s major competitors were in other countries.
“Any competition here in the United States that bid against them for dining items, like Applebee’s, are really just distributors of foreign-made china,” he said.
“Frankly, we all were on the same page I thought,” said McGeehan.
As a result, he said he and/or company officials made repeated trips to Charleston to meet with Justice or economic development officials. Justice traveled to Newell “at least twice, maybe three times” over a two-year period to show continued interest in the plant.
During this period, the delegate said U.S. President Donald Trump was pushing his “Buy American” campaign.
“The timing seemed perfect,” McGeehan added. “I said to the governor, ‘The military should be buying this company’s products for all its dining facilities. It’s all American-made.”
McGeehan said Justice touted his friendship with Trump and said: “he’d have the military buying from Homer Laughlin in five months.”
Eventually, Justice told him and company officials he would establish a $6 million line of credit so they could expand, buy new equipment and develop more products.
After another year of meetings and conversations with no indication the credit line had been established, McGeehan said he went to Charleston for yet another meeting.
This time, the governor did not attend but sent gubernatorial assistant Bray Carey and Finance Secretary David Hardy.
“Basically, they said there was not going to be a line of credit,” McGeehan said.
When he finally saw the governor, the delegate asked Justice if ever talked to Trump about the plant. “He just said, ‘no,’” the delegate said.
“I was very upset,” McGeehan explained. “I definitely told the governor what I thought.”
For that and other reasons, McGeehan said he has opposed “handouts to companies all over the world when we won’t help our own.”
McGeehan specifically mentioned the $105 million recently dedicated to Form Energy for a battery plant in Weirton.
Meanwhile, at Newell, the delegate said company officials are interested in moving more of their operations to the Northern Panhandle.
“I don’t suppose state government would help with that,” he concluded. “They’re too busy chasing dreams.”