W.Va. commerce chief visits Brooke, Hancock locations

PLANT TOUR — Jupiter Aluminum Plant Manager Steve Jorris, left, speaks Thursday with West Virginia Secretary of Commerce Ed Gaunch during a tour of the company’s Beech Bottom facility. -- Craig Howell

BEECH BOTTOM — West Virginia’s secretary of commerce wanted to see for himself some of the industrial successes which have taken root in the Ohio Valley.

Ed Gaunch, who stepped into the position in January after being appointed by Gov. Jim Justice, visited Brooke and Hancock counties Thursday as part of what he called a “celebratory tour” of the state, meeting with local leaders of business and industry.

Gaunch said he was impressed by the growth in the Northern Panhandle in recent years, noting while the steel industry has decreased, new industries are coming to fill the void.

“It’s like a renaissance for the area,” he said, following a tour of the Jupiter Aluminum facility in Beech Bottom.

Headquartered in Hammond, Ind., Jupiter Aluminum also has operations in Fairland, Ind., and Des Plaines, Ill. The company recycles aluminum scrap into coils for building and construction, recreational vehicles and license plates.

Bill Kenealy, chief financial officer of Jupiter Aluminum, noted the company started its local operation in the former Wheeling Corrugating facility six years ago. Today, it has more than 50 employees and operates three work shifts.

The company has invested more than $12 million into the Beech Bottom site, with plans for continuing growth.

“We plan to continue to be a long-time producer,” Kenealy said.

Jupiter Aluminum is one of about a half-dozen tenants in what is now known as the Beech Bottom Industrial Park, redeveloped by the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle.

Beech Bottom Mayor Becky Uhlly noted there had been a lot of concern when RG Steel declared bankruptcy and closed the plant in 2012, but Jupiter’s operations have eased those concerns and replenished any lost tax revenue.

Gaunch also said it is important to remember those operations which have called West Virginia home for many years, balancing that with attracting new opportunities for growth.

“We spend so much time recruiting new businesses,” Gaunch said. “We can’t lose sight of the industry we already have.”

In addition to Thursday morning’s tour of Jupiter Aluminum, Gaunch visited Eagle Manufacturing in Wellsburg and Bidell Gas Compression in Weirton.