CHARLES TOWN – Nic Diehl, who stepped in as executive director of the Jefferson County Development Authority in late 2017 just as details of the Rockwool factory here first made news, will leave his post next month.
Diehl, a West Virginia native who came in for months of fierce criticism as some citizens began protesting plans for the stonewool manufacturing plant, will become executive director of the Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport Authority in Martinsburg.
“I think that the county does have some rebuilding to do,” Diehl said in a phone interview Friday as news of his departure spread. “I spent the last several months talking to site selectors and prospects encouraging them to not write Jefferson County off that we will be a viable option for your business at some point in the near future, and I think that we’ve got to let all of the anger and the hysteria and the ill will run its course.”
“Once that’s done, then I think that the Jefferson County Development Authority needs to regroup and start doing what they do, which is bringing business to Jefferson County.”
Diehl’s set to start in the newly created role on May 22, Authority Chairman Jim Klein announced Friday. “We are very pleased to have Nic join us in moving the airport forward,” Klein said. “Not only does he have extensive business and marketing knowledge in our region, he has maintained a wonderful relationship with the Department of Commerce, which we believe will serve the airport and the region
well in the future.”
Diehl was hired lead the JCDA in November 2017, four months after the Rockwool factory was announced. He said he was asked to focus on economic development that includes assisting and recruiting new small businesses, agricultural food processing, light advanced manufacturing and technology industries.
“That’s what we’ve done for the last year and a half,” he said Friday. “We’ve never focused on heavy industry. Nor have we brought heavy industry to Jefferson County.”
The Rockwool factory was negotiated by Diehl’s predecessor, John Reisenweber.
“My frustration has always been that the people that had issues with Rockwool should have expressed their concerns with Rockwool a full year before they did,” Diehl said. “There were 51 public meetings in which this project was discussed. Nobody said a word and then a year after the plant has already been announced they suddenly have issues with it.
“We at the Development Authority had already moved on. We weren’t focusing on heavy manufacturing.”
Diehl said the state worked with the county to bring Rockwool to Ranson. “The county hadn’t had any major wins for several years, and this was a this is a pretty big win for Jefferson County and the state of West Virginia. As time goes on, I think that people will realize that.”
Diehl called the anti-development protests in Jefferson County are unprecedented.
“I’ve never seen it before. I know I’m from West Virginia. I’ve said this before I’m a West Virginian by birth and I’m a West Virginian by choice, and I love my state and I love Jefferson County,” he said, “and it is it is painful to watch the kind of damage that’s begin done. And I get it that people had concerns and issues about Rockwool. I personally think Rockwool’s a good company. Rockwool will be built and Rockwool will be running by 2020 whether anybody likes it or not. And when that happens, and then when’s the next thing?”
The goal of economic development is to bring in jobs that allow people to provide for their families, Diehl said.
“I think it is important for people to understand what economic development is and how it helps the economy in your county,” he said. “People don’t always equate a county park with a manufacturer. But the reason that Jefferson County has the ability to provide firemen, ambulances, policemen and have county parks and other things are because they have tax revenue coming in, and the reality is, like it or not, industry brings in significantly more tax dollars than people’s property taxes and sales taxes from retail.
“And in order to increase your tax base, you’ve got to diversify your economy. And what we have now is we have quite a bit of retail quite and quite a bit of hospitality, and our industrial tax revenue continues to decrease in Jefferson County, and that the people see the casino now as kind of the cash cow, but the casino is not always going to be generating revenue at the level that it is now.
“In order to replace that, you’re going to have to replace it with something to generate the same kind of tax revenue that the casino did, and very few things do that.”
Diehl said that resistance the Hill Top House Hotel redevelopment project is getting from some in Harpers Ferry is a microcosm of the damage that anti-development views can do.
“It blows my mind that Harpers Ferry is not bending over backwards to try to accommodate that large project that will generate the tax revenue they need to do everything they want to do,” he said. “There is no rationality in any of that.”
Diehl’s new position will involve marketing he airport and its many resources, Klein said. Neil Doran will continue to manage the day-to-day airport operations at Shepherd Field.
Diehl also has been a director of the Region VII Workforce West Virginia Career Center, executive director of the
United Way of Southern West Virginia and the executive director of Valley College.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in public relations and
advertising from Concord University and holds a master’s degree in communication from West Virginia University.
In his resignation letter, Diehl noted that he’s “highly concerned” about the county’s future as it relates to economic development.
“The JCDA has worked tirelessly to increase the tax base and to bring living wage jobs to Jefferson County,” he said. “I pray you can find a way to continue to do that. There are difficult days ahead.”