By KATE COIL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
The new economic development director for the city of Bluefield said Wednesday he is ready to get to work.
Jerry E. Berry said he plans to get to work in Bluefield in the coming weeks.
“I have talked with the mayor, but we aren’t exactly certain when I will start,” Berry said. “There are some scheduling challenges on that end to discuss. I am certainly willing to do what the city needs me to do. It will take some organization the first few days, getting the office together, email set up and other business. I am hoping to start within the next couple weeks. I am planning on moving to Bluefield after my term in Summers County ends. I have assured the group I will spend at least three nights a week in Mercer County to be up and fresh and start work, do a late day if necessary. ”
Berry presently serves as president of the Summers County Commission with a term ending on December 31, 2012. When he starts the job, Berry said his main priority will be creating a business plan and a brand for Bluefield.
“Iin my interview process one of the things I expressed is an importance for planning and imaging,” Berry said. “We need to determine what direction the city wants to go without alienating existing businesses. It will require collaboration with existing businesses to put this plan together. We need a brand, something that makes us distinctive in the real world. We need to sell that brand well and live up to that brand. We need to continue to build on it and make it better. A plan is the first thing we need. We need to know what types of businesses are welcome and try to redevelop the downtown community as well. The community is very similar to Hinton. It’s a railroad town and there are a lot of opportunities there. Once we get that plan in place and work that plan, I hope to prevent surprises. That’s not to say it won’t occur.”
Berry said the recent closure of businesses such as Kroger on Cumberland Road, Bluefield Beverage, and Flowers Bakery do present some challenges.
“The recent Kroger closure and bottling plant closure came from nowhere,” Berry said. “I think good communication with existing businesses and visitations is a good thing. I want an opportunity for myself, Mayor (Linda Whalen), (City Manager) Andy Merriman and Marc Meachum (executive director of the chamber) to visit a few businesses each month to let them know we are here to help and how we can assist them. If there has been a problem, we want to see if we can help that business expand or survive.”
According to Berry, keeping in contact with established businesses can help the city determine what is needed to attract new business and jobs.
“Certainly, I will be forever cognizant of the existing businesses,” Berry said. “While you want to attract new businesses, you cannot alienate the existing businesses who have been with you through good and bad times. You have to have their input. Frankly, they should be a part of the business plan for the city. The first thing is to get the business plan. If the local community doesn’t buy into those ideas, you aren’t going to be able to sell them. The first thing for me will be to visit with local businesses, get their thoughts and see what direction they want us to go in.”
The Colonial Intermodal Center is another project Berry will be involved with.
“I have looked at the project for the application process, but actually during the interview, it did come up,” he said. “I think the project appears to be a high profile project and I am certain I will be involved with that project. From what I have seen, certainly transportation is important in any community, especially a diverse community as Bluefield. I think that type of facility would be important and help bring about the rich railroad history Bluefield has to offer. There has been great ideas coming from the work done thus far and I certainly will do everything I can in my power to try to bring this project to reality.”
In addition to serving as president of the Summers County Commission, Berry also holds other positions dealing with economic development.
“I serve as the chairman for the governor for the West Virginia Workforce Investment Council,” Berry said. “I am a member of the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority; I am board member of the West Virginia Council for Community and technical College education, and I serve as a board member for Region I Planning and Development. I will have to cut back with these positions, but I am willing to stay on any the city feels behooves my job and the city. I also do not want to create any conflicts of interest.”
Berry said a number of factors attracted him to the Bluefield area.
“First of all, it’s close to home and it is a beautiful community,” Berry said. “They have proud neighborhoods that reflect the diversity that is the strength of southern West Virginia. They have beautiful, small residential streets where life remains simple and good. Most of all, Bluefield is home to good decent people who work hard, are nice to others and do not discriminate against others. That is the kind of community that I want to live in and want to help put its footprint in the sand. After looking at the position and talking with the leaders in the city, I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to consider. I am honored the city leaders selected me for this position.
Berry said he is also looking forward to meeting and working with the people of Bluefield.
“I am looking forward to working with people that have identified the needs, that will appreciate reasonable outcomes, and meeting the folks there that have kept Bluefield going as long as they have,” Berry said. “There have been some dark days and those folks who have the fortitude to hang in there with business is tough are the most interesting to work with. I am looking forward to working with the financial community and create opportunities for funding. I certainly look forward to working with the community so they can understand what they have in their tool box.”
— Contact Kate Coil at