Highlands provides 4,000 jobs

TRIADELPHIA – The Highlands would not be the development it is today without Cabela’s opening its doors 10 years ago.

The outfitter became the first business to locate at what then was known as the Fort Henry Business and Industrial Center. Soon to follow were Wal-Mart, Target, J.C. Penney, along with restaurants and Best Buy.

The development now has about 4,000 workers there on a daily basis, earning an annual payroll of about $70 million at more than 60 businesses. Not bad for a development that began as nothing more than an abandoned coal mine dump site when Ohio County commissioners began excavation after purchasing the land in the late 1990s.

“The diversification of the Highlands has helped make it successful,” said Randy Wharton, who serves as an Ohio County commissioner and president of the county’s development authority. The commission formed the development authority to oversee the Highlands.

“We have an educational center, a theater, a bank, a gas station, a plastics plant, automobile operations and hotels. Everyone thinks of the retail, but it is far more than retail,” Wharton said. “The whole thing has become a lot bigger and better than I ever imagined.”

The Highlands now features medical offices, such as Ohio Valley Dermatology. There is also the AT&T call center and the H&R Block office.

“I think the variety here is good,” Wheeling resident Joyce Oyler said. “It is good, overall.”

Wharton said the Highlands never would have become a regional destination without the commitment of Cabela’s to open both its showroom and distribution center.

“We worked very hard to get them here. Once we got Cabela’s, we acquired some more land,” Wharton said. “All of the additional buildings and development came because of Cabela’s,” he added.

Two ongoing concerns Wharton acknowledges for the Highlands are its relative distance from public safety service centers, as well as the lack of a second interchange with Interstate 70. Because the development is outside Wheeling’s city limits, the Highlands falls into the coverage area of the Ohio County Sheriff’s Department and the Triadelphia and Valley Grove volunteer fire departments.

“We have an excellent volunteer fire department force. We recognize there may be a need to help them, so we are looking at ways we can do that,” Wharton said.

The county continues seeking the second interchange, just as it has since 2006 when officials estimated they would need about $38 million for the project. Wharton said efforts to open the second I-70 ramp are ongoing.

“We would like to have some kind of a multi-use center, featuring artificial turf,” Wharton added regarding future endeavors. “It could be used for soccer and lacrosse. It would help bring people into the county.”