Raleigh County Memorial Airport sees progress on new expansion project to recruit aerospace industry workers


BEAVER, W.Va. — The Raleigh County Memorial Airport is celebrating progress on a 105-acre expansion project.

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin joined airport and economic development officials Monday for a groundbreaking ceremony of the expansion project going towards recruitment of aviation and aerospace manufacturers.

A total of $10.4 million came from local, state, and federal financing funding sources to establish the development project at the airport.

Manchin said in a statement the project will lead to a lot of new opportunities.

“As a pilot myself, I know firsthand how essential regional airports are to the quality of life and economic strength and safety of the community,” said Manchin.

“The expansion at Raleigh County Memorial Airport will provide local businesses with access to new markets, as well as help retain and attract businesses to the community, including West Virginia’s growing aerospace industry. As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I am proud to have secured $4.5 million in federal investment for this project, and I look forward to seeing the positive impact the expansion will have on job growth and economic prosperity in the region.”
New River Gorge Regional Development Authority Executive Director Jina Belcher said on Tuesday’s MetroNews “Talkline” the project has been in the works for four years now, through multiple budget overruns followed by two to three years of the Covid-19 crisis. She said she was glad to finally be able to see the project through as the airport is a major aviation and economic development hub.

“The majority of the acres, about three quarters of it will be used for aerospace development only, so there are protective covenants on that property that will bring aerospace and aviation manufacturers to that site,” Belcher said. “This is vitally important to preserving the integrity of the airport, we always wanted to ensure the Raleigh County Memorial Airport serves as an industrial park and an industrial airport.”

​She said along with the recent airport developments, as well as the already ample land and infrastructure it has to offer, the new aviation maintenance training program at New River Community and Technical College in Beaver will make the New River Gorge region and Southern West Virginia itself a strong draw in for aerospace industry businesses and employees.​
“New River Community and Technical College said ‘we’re ready, we’re ready to have an AMT school so that we can supply mechanics,” Belcher said. “We worked with them to determine that the transferability of skills from the coal industry workers into the aerospace industry workers were very easy to do.”

Belcher said the quality of life, pay and wages for aerospace industry employees were comparable to that of those in the coal industry.

She said New River CTC purchased a training hanger at the airport for their AMT program and have invested about $1.4 million in the development of the school.

Belcher said the RCMA and NRGRDA will actively work with NRCTC to recruit new aerospace industry workers once the Federal Aviation Administration permits the aviation school.

She said while the airport project has been in the works for a few years now, groundwork for its potential has been laid out throughout the course of over 25 years as the Raleigh County Commission strived to get the property released by the FAA.

“At that point when that happened and the airport was constructed, there was a short 5,000 foot runway that was put in that’s now the east-west runway, and it started there, it started with ensuring that conduit was laid underneath the runway to run an extension of utilities in the future,” said Belcher.

Belcher said Monday’s groundbreaking at the airport also celebrated multiple other projects underway there, including a new taxi way extension that will allow direct taxi access to the main 6,750 feet of runway.

It also recognized the terminal expansion project that’s currently in the works and the runway extension, which has the potential of extending 2,000 more feet of runway to become 8,750 feet. Belcher said that would make it the longest runway in the state.

She said they will be in close contact with airports around the state to make sure the ongoing projects are staying comparable and complimentary to other similar airport efforts.

“We know it’s going to take all of us and we have to work collaboratively together to make sure that we are turning over the workforce and getting them into these companies so that we can retain them and grow them here in West Virginia, so this has to be a collaborative effort, this absolutely cannot be a competition.”
Local funding sources that helped with the RCMA’s 105-acre expansion include:

$1.75 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA)

$1.75 million from the Appalachian Regional Commission

$3,239,000 through the Infrastructure Jobs Development Council (IJDC) from the State of West Virginia)

$1,365,000 from the Raleigh County Commission

$200,000 from Appalachian Power

$1 million interim project financing from Pendleton Community Bank

$75,000 from the Raleigh County Memorial Airport through a Federal Aviation Administration grant