Charleston West Virginia Economic Development

Discussions on Economic and Community Development in West Virginia and the Charleston MSA as well as issues of the Charleston Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Thursday, January 31, 2008


As the voice of business in our region, the Charleston Chamber of Commerce is hard at work making your views known during the 2008 legislative session.

Last week Matt Ballard, President/CEO, JoEllen Zacks, Senior Vice President, along with the Presidents of the Huntington and Morgantown Chambers, presented the West Virginia Metro Chamber Coalition legislative agenda to a number of delegates and senators. We are pleased by the positive reception to the coalition’s core agenda and other important policy positions, and we look forward to working with our elected representatives to help make West Virginia a better state to live, work and play.

Senators Brooks McCabe, Jesse Guills and Evan Jenkins have taken action on issue of high priority to the Charleston Chamber – removing politics from the judiciary. They are sponsoring SB 218, which calls for the non-partisan election of judges beginning in 2010. We applaud their leadership in helping to elevate our courts from the political fray, and encourage you to support this measure to promote impartiality in West Virginia’s courts.

To see the Charleston Chamber of Commerce position paper on this issue highlighting important reasons the business community and citizens in general should support this bill click here.

If you agree that West Virginia should join the 43 other states that do not select their judges through partisan elections, we encourage you to contact your local delegates and senators and urge them to support this valuable legislation.

For your convenience, a sample message follows.

To read the contents of Senate Bill 218, click here:

To find contact information for your local legislators, click here:

Sample message:

Dear Delegate,

“The law makes a promise – neutrality. If the promise gets broken, the law as we know it ceases to exist.” Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy

Senator Brooks McCabe has introduced SB281, an important step in keeping the promise of neutrality in our state’s courts. The bill calls for the non-partisan election of judges beginning in 2010. West Virginia is only one of seven states that still relies on partisan politics for judicial elections. I urge you to support this measure that will help elevate our courts from the political fray and allow judicial candidates to stand on their qualifications rather than their party affiliations.

Partisan politics threaten fairness in our courts. Please keep the promise of impartial justice to the people of West Virginia and vote “yes” for non-partisan election of judges.


Jane Chamber Member

We will continue to keep you posted in coming days on the progress of this and other issues that will help build a better future for our state.

By Sarah K. Winn
Gazette Staff writer

Hong Kong in market for state's business
Representative visits to drum it up

Margaret Fong, an economic development liaison between Hong Kong and the United States, has been traveling the nation, plugging the opportunity for business ventures with Hong Kong.

Margaret Fong, an economic development liaison between Hong Kong and the United States, has been traveling the nation, plugging the opportunity for business ventures with Hong Kong.

West Virginia was stop No. 25 for Fong, who visited Wednesday with state officials and business advocates.

"We are always reaching out to everybody, especially small and mid-sized firms," she told members of the Charleston Area Alliance. "When you are thinking about going into the Asia market, we are here to understand your needs and point you in the right direction."

Fong addressed three specific industries in which West Virginia could help Hong Kong.

s First is the development of clean coal technology, she said. Because Hong Kong is in the midst of Asia's manufacturing delta, air quality is of great concern, she said.

At Hong Kong's two power-generating companies, 52 percent of the produced energy is coal-powered, she said. Recently, the Hong Kong government allocated $12 million to fund environmental assessments for companies, she said.

"Thousands of firms will be looking for solutions," she said.

s Biomedical technology is also in high demand, as Hong Kong looks for ways to mass-produce and sell herbs used in Chinese medicine, she said.

s Finally, West Virginia should capitalize on its outdoor activities, of particular interest to Hong Kong's residents, she said.

"Hong Kong people love to travel," she said. "They are looking for something different, something they are not going to get at home."

Fong emphasized the work of the New York City-based office of Invest Hong Kong, which helps businesses interested in doing work in the country.

Because of the 150 years of British rule, the region is in the "Western mode" of business, with both Chinese and English as official languages, she said.

"We operate business just like you are used to," she said.

There are no sales taxes or tariffs, she said. Of the two taxes, businesses only pay when they turn a profit, she said.

Foreign-forged businesses also receive the same deductions as Hong Kong-developed ones, she said.

The Hong Kong government has worked hard to cut through governmental red tape, she said. The region has a committee, of which the American Chamber of Commerce is a member, to help reduce governmental procedures, she said.

Hong Kong's centralized location in Asia, along with its free-trade agreement with mainland China, eases entrance into the Asian market as well, she said.

Businesses of all kinds, from manufacturing to banking, are welcome in Hong Kong, especially if a business has a new product to sell, she said.

"We love to consume," she said. "If you have something to sell, we want it."

To contact staff writer Sarah K. Winn, use e-mail or call 348-5156.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Generation Charleston, along with five other West Virginia young professionals organizations, received $2,500 from Wal-Mart as part the retailer’s efforts to build strong communities.

Governor Joe Manchin III, along with representatives from area Wal-Mart stores, presented the $2,500 checks to each of the young professional groups from Charleston, Huntington, Morgantown, Wheeling, Martinsburg and Parkersburg. Manchin said the $15,000 donation will help the groups attract and retain young professionals in their communities and support his “Come Home to West Virginia” initiative to keep the best and brightest in the state.

Generation Charleston is a project of the Charleston Area Alliance. Its mission is to attract and retain youth and intellectual capital in the region by engaging and empowering the Capital City's emerging leaders to create a more vibrant and prosperous economy through community involvement, professional development and networking.

Charleston was one of the first cities in the state that created a young professionals group. Recently renamed “Generation Charleston,” the group has more than 450 members and is currently working on downtown housing revitalization and community outreach projects, as well as professional growth opportunities that will enrich the career experience for members.

“We are grateful to Wal-mart for its generous support of our efforts to attract and retain young professionals and grow the future intellectual capital of our region. This donation will help us put our commitment into action,” said Alliance President/CEO Matt Ballard.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Restoring the ‘Nobility’ of Chemistry
by Matthew Ballard, Alliance President/CEO
Jack Rossi, Alliance Chair

Coal may be king in West Virginia, but in the Kanawha Valley, the chemical industry has achieved a level of nobility as well.

For decades, the Kanawha Valley was one of the world capitals of the chemical industry. Its “reign” brought great prosperity and stability for our region.

(Coincidentally, the concepts of nobility and stability are intertwined on the periodic tables as well. To refresh the recollections of those of us for whom high school chemistry class is a fuzzy memory, there is a class of elements known as the “noble (inert) gases.” These elements are very stable because their outer shells are full. It is this stability that has led some to call the noble gases the “happiest elements.”)

At the Alliance we are working on several levels to buttress the reign of the chemical industry -- which has faced challenges in recent times – in order to bring stability to our local economy. One way is through our historical and ongoing support of MATRIC, which plans to hire a good number of scientists impacted by Dow’s recent downsizing plans. MATRIC, a non-profit research and development corporation located at the Dow Technology Park, was created by one of the Alliance’s predecessor organizations, BIDCO.

MATRIC already employs 70 scientists and is working to accelerate its business plan to expand projects that could be implemented by researchers impacted by Dow decision. We commend Governor Manchin, the Kanawha County Commission and the City of South Charleston for their recent public commitments to assist MATRIC in retaining these valuable, highly skilled employees in our area.

Our partnership with the Governor’s office to recruit Kureha to the Kanawha Valley is another example of our efforts to strengthen the chemical industry. Kureha is a publicly traded Japanese company that will begin construction on a new $100 million facility at the Belle DuPont site. Its presence will, in the short term, bring good-paying construction jobs to the area, and once the new facility is completed, will generate 50 new jobs with competitive pay and benefits.

The Alliance was pleased to partner with state leaders to bring Kureha to West Virginia. We assisted Kureha with the permitting process of the project, supplied important labor information to the company during the decision-making process, and will be providing free office space at our Alliance incubator for construction engineers and staff while the new facility is being built.

In addition to the major capital infusion and new job creation this project brings to our area, it will provide a sorely-needed boost to existing businesses in the region. For example, Kureha will use raw materials manufactured by DuPont, which will need to increase own production. The employees who will build and work at the new facility will spend their wages on goods, services and property in the surrounding area. The construction and spending will generate tax revenues to fund our schools, roads and critical government services. All of this will have a very positive ripple effect throughout the region.

The Alliance is honored to be a part of this noble effort to bring stability to our chemical industry and economy. It’s a critical element in advancing our mission to build a more vibrant community and prosperous economy

Issue: Regional Rail Study

To read the Charleston Chamber position paper on this issue, click here.

To read additional Charleston Chamber position papers, visit and click on the Chamber of Commerce link.

Bayer CropScience enhancing Institute site, trying to attract new tenants
George Hohmann
Daily Mail Business Editor

Bayer CropScience has allocated $15 million to spruce up the company's industrial park at Institute, said spokesman Tom Dover.

"Some buildings near the roadway have already gone down," Dover said. "We're clearing out a bunch of dead stuff - relics from the past.

"Besides taking out dead stuff, we want to improve the first impression of the site as people roll up," he said. "We've had nice signage for some time. We have a small team of folks working on identifying ways to make the site look better for that first impression."

The Bayer CropScience Manufacturing Industrial Park sits on State Route 25, between Institute and Nitro. Bayer CropScience shares the park with several tenants, including Dow Chemical's Union Carbide subsidiary; Praxair Corp.; Adisseo; FMC Corp.; Catalyst Refiners; Reagent Chemicals.

Bayer CropScience has been trying, with some success, to attract more tenants. Emerald Biofuels of Golf, Ill., announced last March that it intends to build a $15 million biodiesel plant in the park.
"We want that first impression to be much better than it has been so, when prospects roll in, what they see is attractive to them," Dover said.

The site renewal project money is coming from Bayer CropScience's corporate parent. "It's nice to be able to get hold of some of these one-time funds," Dover said. The company plans to finish the improvements by the end of this year.

A meeting was held Wednesday with community leaders to go over the plans. Bayer CropScience employees were told of the plans last week during "State of the Site" meetings.

"One thing we are sensitive about is, we don't want people drawing the erroneous conclusion that we're sprucing up the site in order to sell it," Dover said.

Bayer CropScience acquired the Institute site in 2001 when it bought Aventis CropScience. Aventis was formed in 1999 through the merger of Hoechst AG of Germany and Rhone-Poulenc SA of France.

The improvements at Institute follow similar work by Dow Chemical in South Charleston. In 2002 Dow demolished "The Green Monster," a 65-foot-tall drum warehouse along MacCorkle Avenue near the South Charleston plant entrance. The company also built a new entrance to the plant and transformed the area along MacCorkle Avenue from a strip filled with gritty pavement, railroad tracks and a chain-link fence into a grassy buffer zone.

Last year Dow tore down many obsolete structures on Blaine Island. Late in the year the company began demolishing Building 701 at the South Charleston Technical Center.

Contact writer George Hohmann at or 348-4836.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


The Horace Mann Literacy Program will sponsor its second annual “Book Flood.” The Book Flood will be held in a one week period during the last week of January to expand their library book program.

During the “Book Flood” Horace Mann is trying to get one book donated to the school for every student. The goal is to have 410 new books in the school during this time.

“We hope our community understands how much we need these books,” said Becky Rollyson. “The kids read so much we have to upgrade our books to keep them in use.”

HMMS asks everyone to donate one hardback or paperback book. To check the Accelerated Reader list of books needed, click here and click on “library.”

The school will accept any donated book or cash donation to purchase new books.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


The West Virginia Metro Chamber Coalition, representing an estimated 5,000 business, professional and community leaders, today released its first legislative agenda.

The coalition, comprised of the Charleston, Huntington and Morgantown Chambers of Commerce, will focus its efforts during the 2008 legislative session on municipal pension funding; home rule options; investment in the state’s scientific research infrastructure; economic development incentives; conducting an objective study of the state’s legal climate; and health insurance options for chamber members.

The strategic alliance was formed in August 2007 to identify emerging issues of common concern to businesses in their communities and implement coordinated legislative and other advocacy efforts to address them. The three chambers bring together a network of thousands of business, professional and community leaders concerned about building a better future for our state and its cities.

“We are pleased that many of the issues of importance to our members, such as investment in research and development and economic development strategies, were highlighted in Governor Manchin’s ‘State of the State’ address,” said Matt Ballard, President/CEO of the Charleston Chamber.

“We hope that by working together, metro coalition members can help these initiatives become reality for our state,” added Matt Cybulski, interim President/CEO of the Morgantown Chamber Chamber.

The West Virginia Metro Chamber Coalition is intended to supplement the efforts of the state chamber in advancing the agenda of the state’s business community. “This is a group of colleagues working together on opportunities to enhance economic growth and quality of life in our communities,” explained Mark Bugher, President/CEO of the Huntington Chamber.

The West Virginia Metro Chamber Coalition’s Core Agenda for the 2008 legislative session focuses on:

Incentives for economic development. The coalition believes that the State of West Virginia needs to offer more incentives to businesses to locate and expand here. These incentives could include but not be limited to grants, no or low interest loans, tax incentives, and training.

Investment in research. The coalition believes the State of West Virginia can create significant economic development opportunities by increased investment in university based and directed research at the state's two research institutions, West Virginia University and Marshall University.

Municipal pensions. The coalition believes that legislation must be passed to ease the strain of municipal pensions on the state’s cities without additional business taxes.

Health insurance. The coalition supports the development of a quality, affordable health insurance program that can be offered to small business chamber members.

Home rule. The coalition recommends that more home rule options be available to communities, provided that any resulting changes in tax structure do not shift an additional tax burden to the business community.

Study of the state’s legal climate. The coalition supports, and will help fund, the development of an independent study to assess the true legal climate of the state and benchmark the state’s legal climate with our surrounding states.

Each local chamber of commerce in West Virginia is an independent organization. The West Virginia Metro Chamber Coalition is a collaborative effort between three of the largest chambers in the state to advance the public policy issues of interest to the urban areas of West Virginia. The coalition is committed to improving the business climate throughout the state.

Invest in Your Future. Become a State Farm Agent.

Making a real difference in the lives of others. That's what you'll be able to do as a State Farm agent. Plus, you'll enjoy running your own business with the backing of a Fortune 50 company.

If it sounds like the best of both world's, that's because it is.

Explore the possibilities of a career as a State Farm agent by joining us for a career information session on:

Thursaday, February 7, 2008
6 p.m. - 8 p.m.

Charleston Field Office
1700 MacCorkle Avenue, S.E., 8th Floor
Charleston, WV 25314

Please RSVP by Tuesday, February 5, to Dana Berry
Phone: (800) 727.0255

All interested candidate should email their resume in advance or bring one with you the day of the session.

We'll be conducting free pre-screening assessments for interested candidates.

Charleston Stamping and Manufacturing Seeking Employees

Charleston Stamping and Manufacturing is taking applications this week from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the South Charleston Recreation Center.

In May Gov. Manchin and Ray Park, owner of the stamping plant, announced a plan to invest $35 million to restart operations around the first of the year.

Park said at the announcement that the addition of new automation equipment is expected to allow the plant to create 79 jobs in its first year, 140 jobs in its second year and as many as 550 jobs in its fourth or fifth year.

The Cleveland financier is investing $20 million. Manchin has committed $15 million in state money.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

West Virginia Division of Culture and History to continue new Collegiate Series on Jan. 15

The West Virginia Division of Culture and History will continue its new Collegiate Series featuring a talk on the rich history of fine painting in the Mountain State by Dr. John A. Cuthbert on Tuesday, Jan. 15, at 7 p.m.

The program will be held in the Norman L. Fagan West Virginia State Theater at the Cultural Center, State Capitol Complex in Charleston. The series consists of performances and lectures by students and faculty from West Virginia University and Marshall University. First Lady Gayle Manchin is the host of the program. The Collegiate Series is free and open to the public.

Cuthbert will concentrate on artwork from the late 18th to the early 20th centuries. His talk will be illustrated with an array of slides including images of many of the most significant works in West Virginia’s art history. Artists covered include John Drinker, a portrait painter active in the Eastern panhandle during the early 1800s; David Hunter Strother, a painter and illustrator of the mid-1800s; and William Robinson Leigh, a landscape and portrait painter in the late 19th century who worked well into the 20th century.

A graduate of Worcester State College, the University of Massachusetts and West Virginia University (WVU), Cuthbert is curator and director of the West Virginia and Regional History Collection and Special Collections at the WVU libraries. He has written extensively on many topics in West Virginia history.

Cuthbert’s latest book by WVU Press, 2000, is Early Art and Artists in West Virginia which has won him accolades including the West Virginia Humanities Council’s, Charles H. Daugherty Award in 2001 and the West Virginia Library Association’s 2002 Literary Merit Award. West Virginia Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, a collector of West Virginia art, notes in the book’s foreword that “sophistication and elegance have long coexisted with the state’s celebrated mountain folk culture,” and says that the “book is groundbreaking, because it establishes a foundation upon which we can begin to elaborate the history of art in West Virginia.”

For more information about the lecture by John Cuthbert or the new Collegiate Series, contact Jacqueline Proctor, deputy commissioner of the Division, at (304) 558-0220.

The Collegiate Series will continue on Tuesday, Jan. 22, with a performance by seniors in the WVU College of Creative Arts acting program doing selections from Love’s Fire, original works by contemporary playwrights inspired by the sonnets of William Shakespeare.

For more information about the Division’s programs, visit

Friday, January 11, 2008


West Virginia Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) funding.
To read the Charleston Chamber position paper on this issue, click here.
To read additional Charleston Chamber position papers, visit

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Issues and Eggs tackles state growth
Sarah K. Winn

Gazette Staff writer

Each year, the Charleston Chamber of Commerce’s legislative agenda has a simple purpose, chamber chairman Jim Sturgeon said during Wednesday’s annual Issues and Eggs breakfast.

“Our goal [with the legislative agenda] is for economic development for our community, the Kanawha Valley and our state,” Sturgeon told the crowd gathered at the Charleston Marriott.

As part of the Charleston Area Alliance, the chamber serves as the legislative voice for the alliance’s members.

The 2008 agenda has some familiar requests, including:

Increased investment in research through the West Virginia Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (WVEPSCoR).
Non-partisan election of judges.
Incentives for long term care insurance.
Medical criteria for asbestos/silica lawsuits.
Transportation planning and funding.
Elimination of the business franchise tax.

Sturgeon said the Chamber was successful last year in lobbying for reducing business taxes in the state, and continued collaboration is essential.

“In the modern legislative process, it’s a pay-as-you go process,” he said. “Let us eliminate the tax on business investment in West Virginia. Let us find ways together to pay for it.”

In July 2007, the business franchise tax dropped from .70 to .55 percent. Further reductions are scheduled until 2012, with the rate landing at .20 percent. At this rate, the state will generate about $35 million annually, according to a white paper prepared by the chamber.

In this year’s agenda, the chamber suggests an increase in the cigarette tax — from 55 cents to $1 to pack — to help cover the annual revenue from the business franchise tax. At the increased $1 rate, the state could generate about $60 million in new revenue, according to the white paper.

Richard Thompson, speaker of the House of Delegates, said the Legislature worked hard to reduce taxes last session, adding that the reductions helped save businesses $28 million in 2007 and will do the same in 2008.

“I hope we can do more,” said Thompson, D-Wayne.

Sen. Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha, said taxes are the biggest economic development issue in this session.

McCabe wants to eliminate the business franchise tax and reduce other business taxes, he said.
“Look at the states around us,” he said. “[With the tax changes], we will be able to do battle with anybody anywhere.”

Delegate Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, agreed, saying the elimination of the business franchise tax should happen sooner rather than later.

Eliminating the tax now, instead of over five years, will help stretch out the state’s current surplus and, in turn, immediately attract businesses to West Virginia, he said.

“This is one of the most important things in creating jobs in West Virginia because of the economic stimulus it can create,” he said.

Although not specifically addressed by the Chamber, two delegates addressed recent developments in the privatization of the state’s workers’ compensation system.

A joint Judiciary Committee panel voted on Sunday to move a bill forward that requires the state’s insurance commissioner to inform the Legislature of all proposed changes to rules, policies and guidelines in the now-privatized workers’ compensation system.

Insurance Commissioner Jane Cline and several trade associations have raised concerns over the proposal, saying it would have a chilling effect.

“The Legislature, in my opinion, is committed to privatization of workers’ compensation,” Thompson said.

Delegate Carrie Webster, D-Kanawha and House Judiciary Chairwoman, said the bill will simply allow the Legislature to be informed.

“It is to [the constituents’] benefit that we know what is going on. That is open democracy,” she said. “Let us be involved so you all are involved.”

To contact staff writer Sarah K. Winn, call 348-5156.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Charleston Chamber of Commerce has taken a position on the following issues. To review, please click on a topic below. Additional Charleston Chamber of Commerce views will be posted as the 2008 legislative session progresses.

To learn more about the Charleston Chamber of Commerce, visit


Jail fees to get legislative attention

by Jake Stump Daily Mail Capitol Reporter

Phil Pfister, formerly the World’s Strongest Man, speaks with Del. Nancy Peoples Guthrie before this morning’s Issues & Eggs breakfast at the Charleston Marriott.

As the annual Issues and Eggs Breakfast unofficially kicked off the start of the legislative session, several Kanawha County lawmakers said today one of their main goals is reducing the burden of escalating regional jail fees.
The Charleston Chamber of Commerce sponsored the morning session at the Charleston Marriott for lawmakers and local officials.

Local legislators expressed concern over Kanawha County's ability to keep up with jail costs.
Last month, the Kanawha County Commission put regional jail costs at the top of its legislative agenda.

At one time the county was $2 million behind in jail payments but has recently managed to get caught up. Lately, the monthly bills have averaged about $350,000 to pay for people housed in the regional jails.

Del. Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, said an interim committee researching the issue found that more than 2,000 people in the past year were jailed because of late parking tickets or fees.

Palumbo said he thinks jailing people for such minor offenses might cause more harm than good from a fiscal standpoint.

"If that's the case, we need to look at some of these people we're putting in the regional jails," Palumbo said.

The regional jail authority currently charges counties $48.50 a day per inmate.

Palumbo also suggested that increasing the state's alcohol tax could help ease the jail costs.

Del. Dave Higgins, D-Kanawha, called regional jail costs the biggest legislative issue facing the county.

"It's not a problem, necessarily, with the costs of the jail," Higgins said. "The issue is that we're putting people in jail for minor offenses. It seems to be more about the money (raising revenue), and that doesn't sit well with me."

While local lawmakers acknowledge the problem, Higgins said he isn't sure if legislators elsewhere will want to give much attention to the topic.

"It's bound to be worse in a county with a metropolitan area," he said.

Counties received word of slight relief last month when the Regional Jail Authority announced it would reduce the charge by 2 percent in the fiscal year that begins July 1. That is expected to save Kanawha County about $100,000 next year.

In 2005, the Legislature enacted a jail reimbursement fund.

The money comes from higher fines for people convicted of crimes and higher filing fees for civil actions. The proceeds are collected by the state treasurer's office and distributed to the counties to help with costs.

The reimbursement saves the county about $400,000 a year.

But the Kanawha County Commission wants the Legislature to reduce its jail costs even more.
Commission President Kent Carper, who attended the legislative breakfast with fellow commissioner Hoppy Shores, said smaller counties can't even begin to pay their jail bills.

With it being an election year, Carper said he expected the session to be a quiet one. But he said he would still be keeping an eye on the Statehouse because counties are usually put into defensive mode as different bills pass.

In addition to jail costs, legislators may be taking a look at other issues impacting local governments.

Sen. Dan Foster, D-Kanawha, said he expects to delve into unfunded liabilities for fire and police pensions.

Foster chairs the Senate Committee on Pensions.

Sen. Vic Sprouse, R-Kanawha, who has said he isn't running for re-election this year, touted the Republican Party's views on slashing taxes, such as the business tax, instead of gradually repealing them.

The Charleston Chamber, which hosted the event, unveiled its list of legislative goals at the breakfast.

Chamber Chairman James Sturgeon said the group will push again for nonpartisan judicial elections, transportation funding and eliminating the business franchise tax this session.

"Whether or not we're a judicial hellhole, we still have a severe image problem," said Sturgeon, referring to the state's partisan judicial elections.

Contact writer Jake Stump at or 348-4842.

December 02, 2007

Blogging for dollars-Talky Web journals keep customers in the loop
Gazette Staff writer

Chuck Hamsher of the Purple Moon began writing online about his business after finding that a large pool of people were interested in the vintage-design furnishings and art he sells in his downtown Charleston store.

“We have found it to be good business to know about the items we sell and love the items we sell,” he said. “We want our buyers to know about and love the items before they purchase them. The blog is simply an extension of this philosophy.”

Blogs — an online journal — have begun to be part of the business climate in West Virginia. Stores, such as the Purple Moon, have them on their Web sites. Creative firms keep their clients up-to-date about progress in their industry. Lawyers blog about developments in their areas of focus.

About 57 million American adults read blogs, according to a 2006 survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project. Five percent of those blogs are about business, according to the survey.

“Blogging gave the average nontech person the ability to quickly and conveniently create online content, share information and link this information to other resources,” said Bob Coffield, a health care attorney at Flaherty, Sensabaugh & Bonasso. “Business and public-relations groups picked up on the value of the personal blogs, and we are now seeing the maturing of blogs as a business communication tool.”

Coffield started his health-care law blog in July 2004. It’s part professional, part personal, he said.
“I don’t exclusively post about health-law issues,” he said. “I throw in posts on health policy, West Virginia news and a variety of other issues that interest me.”

As a native West Virginian, it’s important to show positive things happening in the state, he said.
At the A Better West Virginia blog, Jason Keeling hopes to be doing the same thing.

“As a state native, it’s personally rewarding to facilitate constructive dialogue regarding West Virginia,” he said. “A Better West Virginia is a way of thinking.”

Keeling launched his blog on West Virginia Day in 2007. While he blogs about culture, the economy and government in the state, he also decided to learn about the media so he could help clients from his consulting firm, Keeling Strategic Communications.

Skip Lineberg, co-founder of Maple Creative, said, “My two reasons for blogging are both professionally driven.

“I wanted to learn the technology so that I could offer it to clients. Secondly, I wanted to have a creative outlet at work to write about topics that were interesting to me.”

Maple Creative’s blog first launched in March 2004. It’s a team blog, which means that many Maple employees contribute, he said.

The blog is good for business for a couple of reasons, he said.

It provides a creative outlet for a creative company, he said.

“The blog helps us to write more. The more we write, the more we sharpen our writing skills and clarify our thinking ... it gives clients a look inside our brains,” he said.

It also drives people to Maple’s Web site, he said. The blog is responsible for 89 percent of the site’s traffic, he said. In a typical month, the blog gets 90,000 hits, he said.

In the past year, there have been at least three inquiries from prospective customers and dozens of media inquiries because of the blog, he said.

The blog has also won several awards, including being named one of the top 100 business blogs by John Crickett, who publishes the Business Opportunity and Ideas blog. This 2007 award was based on credibility rankings and traffic, not a popularity vote, he said.

Coffield said his blogging has affected his business in a way that he didn’t expect.

“It serves in some capacity as an online filing cabinet for information and thoughts that used to reside in my office desk drawers,” he said. “The information not only becomes available for me to search for in the future but to anyone else searching for similar information.”

At the Purple Moon blog, linking to other blogs and Web sites drives people to read about what they are selling, Hamsher said.

He calls it “viral marketing.” For example, a competing eBay seller added a link to the Purple Moon blog for information about an item.

Blog readers came to the Purple Moon site because of the link, he said.

While many businesses developed blogs for current employees, Justin Seibert of Direct Online Marketing in Wheeling actually hired someone for that reason. He blogged for the business, but now Paul Woodhouse, the company’s new media specialist, is a corporate blogger.

Woodhouse started using Google’s blogger in early 2004 after one of his friends, a top United Kingdom political blogger, encouraged him, he said.

He posts two or three times a week on the Direct Online Marketing blog and once or twice a week on The Tinbasher, a blog for his brother-in-law’s sheet metal business in the United Kingdom.

However, there is never enough time, he said.

“I’m always in a quandary about it only taking 15 minutes to post something on a blog,” he said. “Yes, you can always throw something up, but I like to spend a bit more time writing something with a bit of substance.”

For him, the business world’s love or hate of blogs really depends on what kind of atmosphere the company supports, he said.

“Businesses that have always relied on controlling their corporate message obviously hate or misunderstand it,” he said. “Businesses who believe in open communication, trust their customers and genuinely understand transparency obviously love it.”

For businesses, a blog should be more than just an information tool; it should be a dialogue starter, he said.

“I’m a staunch believer in the ‘markets as conversations’ idea and that it’s imperative you join those conversations people are having about the line of business you are in. Imagine a party being held at your house and you being locked out,” he said.

For Hamsher, his blogging is just a natural extension of running a very specific type of business.

“Our business is very specialized and a blog is a wonderful tool for any business trying to reach a very targeted base,” he said. “Blogs are a great tool to use now, but will likely become more important in the future as more people are seeking interactive online experiences where they not only get information but can interact with a person or business.”

While the blog may seem like a newfound business tool, it really just falls back on an old business philosophy, he said.

“Having a blog is not about making a sale. It is about building a relationship. The sales come from the relationships,” he said.

To contact staff writer Sarah K. Winn, call 348-5156.

Friday, January 04, 2008

The Charleston Chamber of Commerce has taken a position on the following issues. To review, please click on a topic below. Additional Charleston Chamber of Commerce views will be posted as the 2008 legislative session progresses.
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