Jefferson County, situated a mere 40-minute drive west of Washington Dulles International Airport, is centrally positioned in the Mid-Atlantic business corridor, and is the only county in West Virginia within the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria Metropolitan Statistical Area. It is made up of more than 200 square miles of West Virginia woodlands and cities like Charles Town, Harpers Ferry, Shepherdstown, Ranson, and Bolivar. The county is bounded by the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers and the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Less than an hour’s drive from the Washington, D.C. Beltway at the eastern-most edge of West Virginia, just beyond the hustle and bustle of big city life, you will find Jefferson County, the D.C. area’s best-kept secret.
John Reisenweber, executive director of the Jefferson County Development Authority, is excited about the recent growth and the opportunities that will inevitably come along with it. One of the challenges for businesses looking to locate in Jefferson County is that, while West Virginia produces large amounts of natural gas, all areas of the state do not have easy access to it. The Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia, where Jefferson County is located, is just east of a continental divide that has caused a geological condition in which the entire area is devoid of natural gas deposits.
“We were losing out on some businesses looking in the region because we couldn’t offer natural gas as an energy source,” says Reisenweber. Last year, a natural gas distribution and expansion plan proposed by Mountaineer Gas Company was approved by the Public Service Commission of West Virginia. As a result, Jefferson County, along with other unserved and underserved areas in the Eastern Panhandle, will see expanded natural gas distribution. Access to natural gas has been a longstanding challenge that local, state, and federal stakeholders have finally found a solution to in Mountaineer’s plan, and the $54 million project should come online late next year.
With natural gas as an efficient and cost-effective energy source, Reisenweber expects industry to grow, but even before the Mountaineer project was announced, many industries saw the strategic advantage of Jefferson County’s location. Being near Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, MD gives businesses contact with the markets and highly competitive workforces of a metropolitan area, while being just far enough away that commercial property costs are often up to 30 percent less.
From a distribution and logistics standpoint, the Burr Business Park and Jefferson County are uniquely situated for efficient transport. Many industries have seen the value in Jefferson County.
Recently, Northern Ireland-based biotechnology company Randox Laboratories opened its North American headquarters in Jefferson County’s Burr Business Park. When renovations and expansion to the 36,000-square-foot building are finished later this year, the facility will include a medical laboratory, a manufacturing area, a research and development lab, and a diagnostic lab in addition to warehousing, storage, and office space. Randox is a global leader in healthcare diagnostics, and the Jefferson County facility has the potential to create 150 jobs, including many science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) positions.
Proximity to the nation’s capital also gives Randox and other biotechnology and healthcare businesses access to the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and other regulatory bodies with which they must coordinate. This is an example of foreign direct investment in Jefferson County and says something about the available infrastructure and the capacity for the county to support highly technical industries.
The United States Coast Guard relocated its Operations Systems Center (OSC) to Burr Business Park in 2014. This 43,000-square-foot facility relocated 300 jobs, many in the information technology (IT) sector. The center supports more than 60 Coast Guard information technology systems.
Other federal government branches have a presence in Jefferson County including the United States Customs and Border Protection Advanced Training Center and the Summit Point Diplomatic Security Training Center. Many federal agencies with critical national security functions like the Department of State Diplomatic Security Service, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the United Nations’ U.S. Military Observers Group, the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations, and the Department of Defense’s Special Operations Groups send personnel to be trained at these sites.
The federal government recognizes the advantage to having sites close to the nation’s capital but in a more affordable location. For these and many businesses that want to benefit from access to Washington, D.C., and Baltimore’s metropolitan markets, Jefferson County makes fiscal sense, and the development authority believes that businesses moving into the area will share that recognition.
Apart from the Randox site and the Coast Guard OSC, the Jefferson County Burr Business Park is home to more than 50 manufacturing, federal government, and commercial operations. Automated Merchandising Systems, DALB, Royal Vendors, and the Schonstedt Instrument Company are but a few of the companies located here. The park is a 400-acre site with one- to five-acre lots available, all shovel-ready and connected to utilities including fiber, water, sewer, electricity, and telecommunications. The park was designed to give businesses access to raw materials, products, employees, customers, and its location provides connectivity to trade routes like Interstate 81.
The development authority has worked tirelessly to make the county an environment conducive to fostering small developing businesses as well as large. With a number of tax incentives at the state and local level, low-cost commercial property, a streamlined permitting process, and virtually no commercial impact fees, the barrier of entry is minimal. The development authority is particularly proud of its work in reducing commercial impact fees to a nominal one percent, and it continues to improve its county by working with businesses and government to reduce other operating costs.
Jefferson County has carved out a unique hub for highly skilled people and highly technical industry in West Virginia. “There are approximately one million highly skilled people within a 50-mile radius, go out 70 miles, and you have Washington, D.C., and Baltimore,” says Reisenweber of the county’s highly technical workforce.
Jefferson County has several distinguished institutions of higher learning including Shepherd University in Shepherdstown. The four-year institution has more than 4,000 students and offers baccalaureate degree courses in sectors including liberal arts, business administration, teacher education, and the social and natural sciences. Blue Ridge Community and Technical College located in Martinsburg, W.Va. has two-year technical training and workforce development programs in applied science, business, engineering, culinary arts, technology, and health sciences. There is also the non-traditional, fully-online American Public University System comprising two component institutions: the American Public University and American Military University. These offer degree and certificate programs in military and public service fields such as homeland security, IT infrastructure security, cyber security, and law enforcement.
Just outside the local area are such highly acclaimed award-winning institutions as West Virginia University, Marshall University, Pennsylvania State University, and Georgetown University.
Many of the qualities that make Jefferson County a winning choice for both growing and established businesses also make the area an attractive place to live for the people who work there. Jefferson County offers affordable living near a metropolitan area with all the charm and beauty of traditional small-town America. The area is becoming increasingly popular with executives and professionals from Washington and Baltimore who are seeking less expensive communities. The cost of living in Jefferson County is significantly less than surrounding areas: 20 and 30 percent less than Baltimore and Washington, respectively, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Awareness.
However, when it comes to quality of life, Jefferson County is not just a smart financial choice. It is also home to exciting entertainment destinations such as the Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races. Myriad outdoor activities throughout the beautiful natural countryside include fishing, rafting, and kayaking on the great Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, hiking the Appalachian Trail, or just enjoying the scenery at any of seven developed parks in the county.
“A lot of people think we’re in the mountains, half a day’s drive from anywhere, but the reality is that you can land at Dulles Airport on a direct flight from any of the world’s capitals and be in West Virginia in 40 minutes. People don’t realize that.” Jefferson County is a truly unique place, with the easy pace of small-town living a short drive from the nation’s capital.