ST. CLAIRSVILLE - A message on the door of the Belmont County Department of Development office on Main Street in downtown St. Clairsville tells visitors the office is only open by appointment. A second, meanwhile, states, "If we're not here, it's because we're out working for you."
The signs have caused some passers-by to wonder if the office is still in operation now that the 125-acre Fox Commerce Park is filled with tenants. Rest assured, the office is still in business, and seeking more land to develop, according to Director Sue Douglass, who said she continues to be extremely busy these days helping prospective businesses find a home in Belmont County.
The office's role is to be the primary contact for businesses seeking to come to Belmont County, as well as the facilitator that makes their move into the county a success. Often the office seeks out loans and grant money for companies interested in the county.
"I am out so much ... business doesn't come to you," she said. "If you catch me in office too much, I'm probably not doing what I should be doing."
Despite its name, the Belmont County Department of Development isn't a Belmont County agency. It is instead an arm of the private, nonprofit Community Improvement Corp. of Belmont County. It is the Belmont County Port Authority that functions as the county's development agency.
Not much is known about the dealings of the private Belmont County Department of Development office, and Douglass said that is by design.
"We're the bridge between the private and public sectors," she said. "We can speak to businesses confidentially and help them to work out their plans. ... We do a lot of discreet work. By the time it is ready to go public, they go with it from there."
Douglass had a meeting in her office Monday with representatives of a prospective business for Belmont County but she didn't offer any details.
"We are glad people are confident to come in and discuss what they need to discuss," she said. "But because of that, there is not a lot of news that is going to be obvious to the community."
Douglass said she often takes visitors to her office to Fox Commerce Park, which she called a microcosm of what Belmont County can become. She praised the diversity of the development, which includes such businesses as FedEx and Stingray - a division of Gulfport Energy - to the locally owned Tim's Custom Cabinets and other service providers.
She said her office isn't as visible right now because the park is now complete and the office isn't marketing property for development.
"In this business we need to know the lay of the land in Belmont County - literally," she said. "It's no longer easy access to property. ... It's more of a challenge now to find land."