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Commerce Secretary Gaunch completes initial business listening tour

Commerce Secretary Ed Gaunch served more than 30 years in industry and a stint in the West Virginia Senate. After taking office as Secretary of Commerce January 2019, he wanted to get out from behind his desk to meet face-to-face with West Virginia business owners and listen to what they need to succeed.

He embarked on a listening tour.

The secretary and his team recently wrapped up the June 18 – 19 tour through Grant, Randolph, Tucker and Upshur counties

“Our plan is to organize tours by region and take one trip per month or so, until we cover the entire state,” Gaunch said.

The June tour, the first in the proposed series, focused on the timber industry.

“It was eye-opening,” he said. “I grew up in southern West Virginia. Like a lot of people, I didn’t realize the impact the forest industry has on our state.”

The planned series of tours also sends a signal to established businesses: you matter.

“Existing businesses need to know we recognize their importance to our state,” Gaunch said. ”We want them to tell us what we can do to make them more successful, more profitable and able to employ more people. We are paying attention.”

The cities and businesses Gaunch visited on the tour are:

The Weyerhaeuser Company was founded in 1900 with 900,000 acres of timberland and only three employees. Today Weyerhaeuser is one of the largest sustainable forest products companies in the world. The veneer technology plant in Buckhannon produces Microllam, a laminated veneer lumber; and Parallam, a parallel strand lumber. Weyerhaeuser employs approximately 285 workers at the Buckhannon plant.

West Virginia Split Rail operates in Buckhannon. The company provides wood split rail fence, post and rail, gates and stacked snake rail fencing.

The Armstrong Hardwood Flooring plant in Beverly opened in 1989. The company is the leader in hardwood flooring for residential and commercial products. In September 2018, the Armstrong plant in Beverly broke ground for an 85,000-square-foot distribution center. The addition to the company's existing 750,000-square-foot facility made the Armstrong plant in Beverly the largest pre-finished hardwood flooring plant in North America. In the fall of 2018, Armstrong sold its wood flooring segment to American Industrial partners.

YouthBuild provides education, counseling and job skills to unemployed young American adults. Participants earn money while strengthening their educational attainments, gaining experience building quality houses and learning marketable skills. The West Virginia chapter of the national YouthBuild organization operates in Elkins.

The West Virginia Wood Technology Center in Elkins is a nonprofit subsidiary of the Randolph County Development Authority. The center’s mission is to foster growth in the regional economy and area businesses. The center provides services such as a business support center with facility and equipment rental; training programs for a business workforce, and a woodworking center with equipment training and rental.

The Elkins-Randolph County Chamber of Commerce hosted an After Hours event at the Graceland Inn, Elkins. The organization has approximately 200 members.

Kingsford Manufacturing got its start in 1919 when Edward G. Kingsford helped early automotive mogul Henry Ford to procure a stretch of timberland to supply wood for Ford’s auto plants. The wood waste generated by Ford’s sawmills was repurposed into pressed blocks of charcoal briquets. Today Kingsford is the leading manufacturer of charcoal in the U.S. The company converts more than one million tons of wood waste into briquets every year. Kingsford operates manufacturing plants in Burnside and Summer Shade, Kentucky; Springfield, Oregon; Belle, Missouri; and Parsons, West Virginia.

Allegheny Wood Products was founded in 1973 with a single sawmill in Riverton, West Virginia. More than 45 years later, Allegheny Wood Products has grown to be one of the largest producers of Eastern U.S. hardwoods. With Allegheny’s nine sawmills locations, the total annual sawmill production capacity exceeds 230 million board feet. The listening tour visited the sawmill in Petersburg.

An overview of the June listening tour is available on video here.

Related social media hashtag: #WV, #WVforest, #timber, #WVDO, #hardwood, #AppalachianHardwood