For the past several decades, the Ohio Valley, with Wheeling serving as its metro hub, has suffered population loss and economic downturn. Wheeling’s population, once in the top 20 in the United States, is now just over 27,000.
However, things are changing. A new wave of younger professionals, preservationists, artists and students are partnering with Wheeling-ites who have been trying to make a difference for years, and they are doubling down on Wheeling.
There is new construction in Downtown Wheeling with the groundbreaking of the 400-employee, Health Plan headquarters. New housing structures are being constructed, and new restaurants are serving millennial-friendly food, craft beer and music, and a new crop of City Council members and Mayor swept the May 2016 local elections.
“I think we are entering a period of time where for the first time in my lifetime people are talking about the present and future of Wheeling rather than about the past of Wheeling, and I am not being critical of those who talk about the past because this city’s past is a remarkable history,” said Mayor Glenn Elliott, a Wheeling native and attorney who returned to town after working in D.C. for years, first as an assistant to U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd and then in corporate law.
One only has to look in one’s backyard to find examples of revitalization that give hope: Morgantown and Pittsburgh. Both are thriving communities who keep their young people in town and attract new residents by the droves. The common thread is the universities that serve as catalysts.
West Liberty University is poised to take a leadership role and serve as a similar agent of change:
• WLU Center for Entrepreneurship has incubated five new Downtown Wheeling businesses.
• WesBanco headquarters proudly employs 100+ alumni.
• WLU TV Channel 14 carries live election coverage, Show of Hands competitions, the Wheeling City Council meetings, the State of the City and community interest shows.
• College of Arts and Communication students and faculty have been instrumental in leading change through art with mural projects and events.
• WLU Downtown Center opened in September, with a satellite office for WLU Foundation and an office used by Advancement, Community Relations and Admissions.
“People appreciate the fact that you care about your community. That’s why I think a focus on bringing people back is just as important as a concentration on retaining our young people,” said Mayor Elliott recently.
Well Wheeling — the Hilltop’s right here with you!