Retention: A Tale of Two Commutes

How can we keep our young people in Wheeling?

How can we convince those who have left to come back?

How can we attract new residents to the Friendly City?

These are three big questions that Wheeling needs to answer and she needs everyone’s help. One way to improve retention and recruitment is for Weelunkers to celebrate the aspects of Wheeling life that exemplify the quality of life they seek. Specific examples are powerful. I am one who was born and raised here, moved away and came back. This experience gives me the opportunity to compare and contrast. Here is one such example.

I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for seven years prior to moving back to my hometown of Wheeling in 2007. I lived in the East Bay, in Oakland mostly, but my job brought me across the Bay Bridge to San Francisco and, for a time, across the Richmond San Rafael Bridge to Marin County. The Bay Area is like Pittsburgh in the sense that due to its geography, in this case the water and mountains, there’s not a lot of room for an efficient infrastructure. Hence, there’s always traffic: lots and lots and lots of traffic. Despit the convenient BART train, their version of a subway system, I would often drive for the convenience of getting my young son from daycare after work each day.

Oakland Bay Bridge Toll Booth – (Wikipedia)



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The only positive aspect of my commutes were the incredibly beautiful views of the city, mountains, Golden Gate Bridge, etc… but mostly they were torture. My commutes were about ten miles and 1.5 hours each way. On 9/11 I was working in San Francisco; they closed all of the Bay bridges and it took me ten hours to get home. Day after day, starting and stopping, through toll booths, brake, accelerate, brake, accelerate, surrounded by strangers on all sides, all in frustrated moods, over and over and over and over again.

I-580 (Wikipedia)

For the past ten years now my drive to and from work is nearly exactly the same in terms of distance: traveling from Woodsdale to West Liberty University where I work as Vice President of Institutional Advancement. However, holy mackerel, that’s the only similarity.

First, it takes me only 20 minutes each way and I encounter one traffic light: at Sheetz. The only time I get caught in traffic is when I’m bamboozled by the visitors to the Festival of Lights, stuck behind a farm tractor, a gas well truck or a “careful” i.e. “older” driver…or if I have to stop to let a family of deer pass by (in one case it was a cow). Almost every time I drive to and from work I will pass someone I know well enough to wave to – and they wave back.

And then there’s Route 88. Your quintessential West Virginia “country road” with a twist, it is like a ride at Epcot Center with no regulator. This stretch of 88 takes you up a dramatic 800 foot incline, followed by a blast of beauty mixed with history, through the unique Oglebay Park, past the 35,000 square foot spectacle of the Mull Mansion, and then the fun begins.

It becomes an intense thrill ride which I enjoy but frankly scares the bejesus out of some of my colleagues, especially if there’s even a whisper of rain or snow. A long straightaway with several quick up-and-downs, followed by a gradual curved hill that leads you into the memorable almost-90-degree zig zag turns that leave your stomach with the squirrels in the woods.

Route 88 is living poetry, an ode to our hills who rule the land, and a reminder to all of us that yes, downtown is where our future lies, but we are only one ridge away from being “out”.

As a member of Mayor Elliott’s retention committee I can tell you that we have identified several aspects of quality of life that – when compared to other ares of the country – Wheeling wins in the end. Like traffic, cost of living, proximity to family, ability to make a difference, and many more. Yes, in places like San Francisco or Charlotte or DC, you have Thai restaurants and better weather, but at what cost? I argue that spending 2.5 hours of your day with family instead of on I-580 with the mass of humanity is worth the “sacrifice”.

If you are considering a move back to Wheeling, take it from me, I’m not only happy with my decision, I know that I made the right decision.

Photos By Jason Koegler unless otherwise noted



7 Responses

  1. Pam

    I left right after graduation in 1973. Lived in Pittsburgh, Nashville, Portland, Las Vegas and finally settled in California. There simply is nothing there of interest. The jobs do not pay well. Most of the river towns are run down and falling apart. When the largest employer is a hospital that tends to the elderly, that’s your sign. I love California. I did an even longer commute than the author. I love being two hours away from the mountains and an hour from the ocean. The environment is clean. Yes it’s pricey in some aspects but the quality of life is well worth it. I’ve had opportunities I would never have had if I stayed in the Ohio Valkey. P.S. I’m 61 years old!

    Reply
  2. Chris Baker

    Does the author seriously not know the answers to the three questions he asked at the beginning? Or are they just rhetorical questions?

    How can we keep our young people in Wheeling?
    Make it possible for them that they can have great careers here.

    How can we convince those who have left to come back?
    Make it possible for them that they can have great careers here.

    How can we attract new residents to the Friendly City?
    Make it possible for them that they can have great careers here.

    Reply
  3. Mark

    No one doubts the beautiful nature, low cost of living and lack of traffic that Wheeling provides. What it lacks is diversity and decent paying jobs.

    It’s too bad that our state government has done nothing to diversify the economy away from the dying coal industry. Rather than attract new and growing industries, they’re loosening restrictions on coal mines that are ruining our environment and public health. The coal companies (with the help of most state government officials) are trying to squeeze every last penny out of the area before they themselves go bankrupt. Since other renewable energy sources like solar and wind are now cheaper to produce than coal, we should try to create an “Energy” policy for our state – not a “Coal” policy.

    The sooner the coal industry goes away, the faster an area like Wheeling can move on and begin their turnaround. The city need to focus more on its natural beauty, history, and great location near other major cities like Pittsburgh and D.C., and focus on creating jobs where those with college degrees will want.

    Unfortunately the state has been getting screwed by the coal industry for decades who they convince the citizens that their livelihood depends on coal jobs. (For example: The Friends of Coal Bowl. Really?)

    The state government is to blame for allowing the coal companies to do whatever they want and not enacting policies to diversify the economy. Most of the smart people in the state leave because there are no other job opportunities. The coal jobs will continue to decline due to other external factors, and the state will likely continue on its downward spiral until people start to think about other economic opportunities.

    Coal needs to completely go away before the state will see any changes…and that’s only because they’ll be forced to find some sort of alternative and start rebuilding at that point. This could take at least another generation.

    The state should lean more on its academic institutions like WVU to support the research and technology advancements that come out of the university. This will create much more long term sustainable jobs than bowing down continuously the the coal and fracking industries. And preserve our states beauty.

    Reply
  4. Andy

    It’s all about the jobs! Honestly people…Why are we even talking about anything else?

    Reply
    • Rochambeau

      I think if you focus on jobs and nothing else, you might get a bunch of low-wage, dead-end gigs for a while. But if you focus on creating a beautiful, vibrant community where people want to live and work, then solid career opportunities will come.

      Reply
  5. Rochambeau

    WV 88 between the straightaway and North Fork is a crazy and wonderful stretch of road. The way each turn flows into the next, it’s like poetry written in asphalt.

    Reply
  6. Susan West

    I know several young couples who left the Ohio Valley and returned after having children. It speaks volumes for the kind of childhood they had and the kind they want for their children. The solution is jobs! Jobs! Jobs! I wish we knew how to make that happen.

    Reply

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