Public and Private Efforts Key to Ongoing Upswing in Elkins
As the Elkins council prepares to review progress on its 2018-2023 Strategic Plan at tonight’s meeting, officials are pleased with the amount of business activity and the levels of both private and public investment in Elkins over the last half decade.
Council’s strategic plan includes the following strategic focus areas: redevelopment and beautification of downtown Elkins; execution of a master facilities plan for city properties; improved communications; enhancement of governance and process protocols; and exploration of city boundary expansion opportunities. All these areas have seen significant progress since 2018, a period that has also seen considerable public and private investment in the city’s infrastructure, public spaces, and business development landscape.
“We know that many of the big steps forward Elkins has seen in the last few years are the result of decisions by private business owners and external agencies and organizations we don’t control,” says Elkins City Clerk Jessica Sutton. “But given that the city has accomplished nearly 75 percent of the plan’s goals during a time period that has also seen significant business activity and investment, it looks like the plan is helping position the city as a proactive and flexible partner and remove some of the obstacles that might have existed in the past.”
Infrastructure and Facilities Projects
During 2021, City of Elkins completed a $4.3 million project to reduce sewage overflows to the Tygart Valley River by separating sewer and stormwater lines in South Elkins and built a modern, attractive parking lot behind city hall with more than 90 public parking spaces.
Other recent city projects include extensive modernization of the Elkins Police Department and, at the Phil Gainer Community Center, the installation of a generator, modern HVAC, new roof, new gym floor, and other improvements. Among other benefits, the center’s upgrades will greatly expand useability during hot weather, keep recreational users safer from injury, and enable use of the center as a temporary shelter during emergencies.
The approximately $3 million in federal ARPA funds received by the city is helping jumpstart some long-needed projects. Council has dedicated a significant share of these funds to making urgently needed upgrades to the water system and retaining an engineer to plan systematic replacement of the city’s aging underground water and sewer infrastructure. Extensive accessibility upgrades to city hall are also getting underway.
To protect property values and make Elkins even more attractive to new residents and businesses, the city has in recent years been working hard to address the problem of neglected and dilapidated properties. Council’s strategic plan included a goal of creating a fund for demolition of dilapidated structures, and the city budget now includes a standard annual line item of at least $50,000 for this purpose.
Since 2017, the city has demolished about a dozen such structures, at a total cost of more than $165,000. Some of these were the result of direct enforcement action by the city, and some were the result of negotiations between the city and the property owners.
Other demolitions were made possible by a first-of-its-kind partnership between the city and Woodlands Development Group, a federally certified Community Housing Development Organization that specializes in creating new and renovated housing for low- and middle-income workers and seniors. By partnering with WDG, City of Elkins became the first jurisdiction in West Virginia to access money for demolitions through the West Virginia Housing Development Fund’s Property Rescue Initiative, a revolving loan program for addressing blighted, dangerous properties.
Recreation and Beautification
At the same time that the city has been working to improve infrastructure and eliminate dangerous properties, public and private entities have been making progress toward two additional goals in council’s strategic plan, community beautification and expansion of recreation opportunities.
A sampling of beautification projects over the last approximately five years includes the installation of a green space with walking paths by Davis & Elkins College by Randolph Avenue; a mural painted on the wall of Mountain Valley Bank; the ongoing replacement of trees in the downtown, protected by distinctive, custom-made City of Elkins tree grates; and the various seasonal decoration programs facilitated by Our Town, including fall scarecrows, Christmas gnomes, and spring tulips, in addition to the annual downtown flowers program.
Elkins Main Street has plans to sponsor two additional murals on downtown businesses this year. The construction of the Rotary Pavilion at the RCDA’s Town Square property has enabled many additional public events and performances, including Our Town’s summer concert series and events hosted by the Mountain State Forest Festival and the Augusta Heritage Center.
New and expanded recreation opportunities implemented during the last few years include the extension of the Allegheny Highlands Trail to the Elkins Railyard, including a pedestrian and bike bridge across U.S. Rt. 219.
City of Elkins is currently in the process of selecting an engineering firm for a project to expand and improve the appearance and useability of the city’s riverfront.
Other ongoing work includes a working group of local, state, regional, and federal partners that is developing a master plan for trails in the Elkins area. This plan, which will use proven site selection methods to identify promising locations for both biking and hiking trails, will be used to obtain land-use agreements and secure funding for trail development.
As the city makes progress toward the goals in council’s strategic plan, certain data suggest a public perception that the business environment in Elkins is strong and supportive, including trends in sales-tax revenues, new business creation, and the expansion of existing businesses.
Sales Tax Revenues
Sales tax revenues have steadily increased since implementation of the city’s 1 percent sales tax in 2018. The first full year of sales tax revenues was 2019, when the city took in $1,136,178. That total increased 12 percent to $1,272,938 in 2020. Sales tax revenues for 2021 grew to $1,410,563, a nearly 11 percent increase over 2020 and an almost 25 percent increase since 2019.
This ongoing growth in sales tax revenues seems to indicate a strong business environment, especially given that pandemic-related shutdowns and restrictions probably depressed economic activity relative to what it would have been in normal years.
New Business Formation
Also attesting to a strong business environment is the willingness of entrepreneurs to locate new businesses inside city limits. Elkins has seen significant new business formation in recent years, according to data published in the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Business Statistics Database.
Since 2017, 383 new businesses have been established in Elkins, for a net increase in actively licensed businesses of 34 percent during the period 2017-2021 (compared to 33 percent net growth in Randolph County overall during the same period). During the preceding five-year period 2012-2016, the net increase in businesses based in Elkins was considerably lower, at just under 3 percent.
Examples of newly opened businesses in Elkins during this period include Byrd’s Donuts, S&T Bees, Bar 1, Jimbo’s, TipTop, and The Common Door. In addition, the medical equipment manufacturer Saneso moved into the Wood Tech Building in the Elkins Industrial Park.
On the horizon is a $16 million project to transform the former Tygart Hotel into a boutique hotel serving the families, institutions, and burgeoning recreational tourism industry of the region. A projected 18-month construction project is scheduled to commence later this year.
In the last few months, the Randolph County Development Authority (RCDA) has been laying the groundwork for even more new business creation. In 2021, RCDA purchased a section of the former Oddfellows property that abuts the Elkins Industrial Park. The authority plans to request annexation of this property by Elkins for the purpose of expanding the city’s current industrial park. RCDA is also moving forward with plans for the development of the Elkins Railyard by hiring an engineer to design an event center and multi-tenant commercial building for the site.
Expansion of Existing Businesses
Many of the city’s existing businesses continue to express confidence in the local business environment by expanding and further developing their offerings and facilities in Elkins.
Davis Medical Center recently announced its adoption of a 10-year master facilities plan that will see the institution make multi-million-dollar investments in expanding DMC operations and capabilities, including a new women’s and children’s health center. As a first step, DMC just opened a new “healthy foods” market to address food insecurity and better support medically prescribed diets.
Big Timber Brewing has expanded its production facilities by purchasing and renovating the former DOH garage on Randolph Avenue. Citizens Bank constructed a new drive-through facility and parking area adjacent to its main branch, on Third Street.
Additional businesses making significant expansions to their operations in the last several years include Super Car Wash, on Eleventh Street; the Holiday Inn Express, in the Elkins Railyard; and the Delmonte Market, which was itself a new business just a few years ago and recently opened a second floor of retail offerings to the public.
Sutton says council is pleased to see what seems like a synergistic and collaborative relationship between the city and its public and private stakeholders.
“With our progress toward council’s strategic goals and all of the strong business activity and other improvements occurring out in the community, it really feels like everyone is on the same page and pitching in to get Elkins where it needs to go,” she says. “Again, we know the city can’t take credit for the decisions of so many private business owners and outside organizations, but it’s good to see evidence that the city is reducing and eliminating barriers to starting, operating, and even expanding successful businesses in Elkins.”