By Steve Novotney
I was asked a most interesting question during a recent trip to Pittsburgh. A waitress at Roland’s Seafood Grill in the Strip District inquired about where I was from, and following my answer, she asked me, “How would you describe Wheeling?”
My initial answer was, “It’s a lot of fun, and it’s a great place to raise your children.”
Her inquiry, though, caused me to contemplate. I know we are a friendly bunch in Wheeling because any time I speak with a visitor, it’s usually the first thing they mention. But what is Wheeling, W.Va.?
I have moved from Wheeling on a few different occasions. Immediately after graduating from West Liberty University, I departed the Upper Ohio Valley for the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., area. I moved home after two years because I wanted to continue my education and because, well, I missed home.
I again moved away – this time to Pittsburgh – for an employment opportunity, but then my grandmother needed to move to my parents’ house two years later, and I went with her.
And then in 1997, after working as a journalist in New Martinsville and in Wheeling, I was offered what I believed to be a dream job. I published the official newspaper of the Pittsburgh Pirates – PIRATE REPORT – and also broke into the sports talk radio business with Pittsburgh’s ESPN Radio 1250.
But in 2004, with the Internet devouring print publications, the decision was made to fold the newspaper and concentrate on the ballclub’s online presence. At that time, I gained several job offers far away from the tri-state region, but my wife and I chose home. Our son, Michael, was in the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army, and yes, he was in the Middle East far too much for our collective comfort. We needed our families and our friends, and we prayed the Friendly City would welcome us back.
But that was a “not-so-much” experience. My impression was that many believed we were failures, and that we had to move home. For some reason, many folks failed to believe that working as a radio journalist in my hometown was what I considered my dream job. Instead, I heard, “No one moves back here on purpose.”
Oh but they do, and many contributors have explained to Weelunk readers their own reasons from coming home. Today, these people are not considered failures as we were just 11 years ago. Today, it makes you sort of special. Today, it makes you a part of the solution.
So how do we describe Wheeling, W.Va., in the future? I told the young lady the truth about Wheeling. We do have a lot of fun; there ARE a lot of different things to do; and with the available schools, recreational opportunities, and caring organizations, it IS a great place to raise a child.
Making a comeback?
Branding is marketing practice of labeling something with a short slogan and a big idea. An example would be the slogan – “The Place to Play” – adopted few years ago by the Wheeling Convention and Visitors Bureau. It’s an excellent slogan to use when marketing the Wheeling area because there are a lot of playful activities offered in Belmont, Marshall, and Ohio counties. But it says nothing about education or employment or the arts and culture that continue to prosper, and that’s because the slogan was directed to outside areas in an effort to convince Ohioans and Pennsylvanians to spend their expendable dollars here.
But recruiting our natives home is a part of today’s Wheeling no matter what the “Negative Nellies” wish to convey when such a venture is mentioned. We want our brothers, sisters, and friends to come home for more than a homecoming weekend and the holiday season. Of course, employment is a factor in the equation, and the gas, oil, and coal industries have added living-wage opportunities, as have Orrick and Williams Lea. Are there enough jobs for Wheeling to actually add population in the coming years? Perhaps, but that number is determined by new residents as well as birth rates and death rates, and our city’s demographics from the 2010 U.S. Census indicated there were more older people than younger people living here close to five years ago. That year the median age in Wheeling was 45.2 years old, and the city’s 28,000-plus citizens included just 9.4 percent between the ages of 18 and 24 and 50.4 percent above the age of 45.
Will the statistics be different after the next nationwide survey is conducted? I believe they will be because local school systems, colleges, and universities have adapted their curriculums to educate based on local opportunities and because, for the first time since 2004, I am not alone in believing there is life after steel.
A Renewed Wheeling Feeling?
Play, then Stay?
It is a difficult task to sum up everything about the city you love in just a few words, but it must be short and intriguing in order to attract the attention and to retain attention. However, too often a product’s marketing can be misleading, and Wheeling needs a slogan that reveals our symphony orchestra, the programming on the stage of the Capitol Theatre, the soon-to-be-developed dog park, the festival season, the plethora of locally owned restaurants, the Centre Market district, river recreation, the parks, and our people.
If you possess a witty idea, please use the “Comment” option to add them because no single mind can create something so important to the future of the Friendly City.
OK, how about this for a new slogan for Wheeling, W.Va.?
“A Big-City Feeling in a Small-Town Setting.”
Novotney is the host of “Steve Novotney Live” on the Watchdog Network, AM 1600 WKKX and AM 1370 WVLY.