W.Va. Chamber of Commerce reelects Adams

PARKERSBURG – As the state is moving to develop more natural gas opportunities, including the proposed ethane cracker facility for Wood County, a Parkersburg businessman will continue to be a leader with the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce to create opportunities for business development across the state.

Richard Adams, the chairman and chief executive officer of United Bankshares Inc. and United Bank, was reelected the chairman of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors at its annual meeting last week.

“I was honored to continue with West Virginia’s largest jobs advocacy organization,” he said.

Adams commended the leadership of State Chamber President Steve Roberts in continually making positive change in West Virginia’s business climate.

The state Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting and business summit held at The Greenbrier last week was one of the largest ever, Adams said.

“There were 865 registrants,” Adams said. “It was a record breaking gathering of business leaders in the state.”

Adams said they had a strong slate of speakers, many from energy companies that are doing business in West Virginia, including Randy Cleveland, president of XTO Energy Inc., and David Peebles, business development manager at Odebrecht, the company proposing to build a $4 billion ethane cracker facility in Wood County.

“The Chamber continues to look for positive change in West Virginia to make the state more competitive with other states in creating business opportunities,” Adams said. “In addition to change, we need to do a better job of selling the positives of the state.”

In addition to Adams, local automotive businessman Dan Wharton Sr. was elected to the State Chamber’s Board of Directors. Jill Parsons, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of the Mid-Ohio Valley, was elected president of West Virginia Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives.

“The area is well represented at the State Chamber,” Parsons said.

Wharton said he is hoping to get more people in the automotive industry involved in the State Chamber.

The themes highlighted throughout the summit were “energy, education and elections,” Parsons said.

Candidate forums were conducted with the people running for the three U.S. House of Representative seats from West Virginia as well as the seat in the U.S. Senate currently held by Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller, who is retiring after this year.

Although the local chamber does not endorse candidates, Parsons said it was interesting learning about the candidates and being able to provide information to its members.

The talk of energy development was a large part of the summit, especially discussions about the proposed cracker facility possibly coming to Wood County as well as natural gas developments throughout the state.

“Over the last few years, coal has been the focus of the energy discussions,” Parsons said. “This year, there was more of a shift to natural gas. There were a lot of positive comments about natural gas exploration in the state.”

Coal was still discussed in detail, including its importance in the state and its issues with the federal Environmental Protection Agency, she said.

Wharton said Cleveland spoke of the “treasure” the state had in natural gas and the opportunities it represented.

He said Peebles talked about their corporate philosophy and how Odebrecht was community minded and involved in civic affairs.

“It was something that could apply to any business,” Wharton said.

A lot of people were upbeat about the possibilities natural gas can present.

“It is a great opportunity for our state,” Wharton said.

Parsons talked about natural gas exploration occurring to the north and east of Parkersburg and how that is creating many opportunities.

“There may not be a ton of drilling here yet, but we are definitely in the middle of everything,” she said.

Education continues to be a priority for state business leaders as an educated workforce will be needed to fill new jobs being created.

“With the developing oil and gas industry, we need to be able to train people to be ready to walk into these jobs,” Parsons said

There is a greater focus at the community college and technical school level to prepare students.

“West Virginia University at Parkersburg has really benefited with its welding program,” Parsons said. “Their welding program is full and that is what is needed in the oil/gas industry.”

Business leaders around the state were excited about the prospect of an ethane cracker facility coming to Wood County.

The State Chamber is working to make sure the deal goes through, Adams said.

“If we are able to close this deal, it will have a tremendous impact on this whole area,” he said. “We are doing everything we can locally to get this transaction done.”