WHEELING - The Upper Ohio Valley finds itself traveling a road filled with potential riches through the natural gas industry - but that same road also has a number of potholes, and navigating it will require care and a strong vision from local leaders to shape the future.
This road we're on carves a path through the Marcellus and Utica shale, which is helping the local region reshape itself after decades of essentially being in a holding pattern. Tens of billions of dollars are being spent in both West Virginia and Ohio - nearly all of it locally - to fuel the natural gas bonanza. New businesses are opening. Employment opportunities are there.
The road's bumpiness begins in the heart of the nation's coal industry, which remains under attack from federal regulators, putting thousands of jobs at risk. Murray Energy Corp. has emerged as the area's and one of the nation's dominant energy companies, and is taking the lead in fighting back against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Along Interstate 70 in Ohio County is The Highlands, a retail development that is seeing record sales and smooth sailing. The same can be said for the Ohio Valley Mall along I-70 in Belmont County, which is seeing a renewed push with the addition of Boscov's and upgrades to Macy's and the mall itself.
The road ahead for local health care facilities is fraught with blind curves, as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, is changing not only the insurance system, but also how health care is delivered. What frustrates local health care executives most is that no one - not even those who wrote the bill - seems to know just what impact the law is going to have.
Public education continues to travel a bumpy road, as new Common Core standards are being implemented throughout our area. Budget cuts in West Virginia also are threatening the role of higher education, as is a Senate bill that seeks to allow the state to regulate all employee pay at public colleges and universities. But amidst all the change, local schools - both public and private - continue to excel.
Tourism and finance also deliver smooth rides in our region, from the success of the Capitol Theatre to the growth of the area's banks.
There are many other examples of the road our area finds itself on, all of which are presented in "The Road We're On," a six-section publication that debuts in today's newspaper. Our reporters have been gathering input from local business and elected leaders for the publication, which focuses on the following areas: Drilling/Mining and Retail, in today's paper; Health and Education, which come out Wednesday; and Tourism and Finance, set to publish on Thursday.
"We believe 'The Road We're On' provides a comprehensive look at just how the local region and the nation are changing with the times," said John McCabe, managing editor of The Intelligencer. "From development of the Marcellus and Utica shale formations, which have the potential to reshape the Upper Ohio Valley, to the future of coal, health care and our region's education system, we looked into the issues we believe you, the reader, care most about. We believe this special publication gives you the depth of knowledge needed to understand many of the challenges our area and our nation face today and in the future."