By Steve Novotney
The first decision Erikka Storch made when walking into her new office as the president of the Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce was to open the vertical blinds that hid an enormous picture window.
“I have no idea why anyone would close it,” she said. “It’s a great view, although it makes me want pizza for lunch every day because I can see DiCarlo’s from my desk.
“Everyone I’ve met within in my office loves that view, and I think it’s because you can see business taking place because Wesbanco’s headquarters is directly across the street,” Storch explained. “Plus, I want to watch it grow.”
Storch, the fourth president in the Chamber’s history, won a third consecutive term in the W.Va. House of Delegates yesterday. She is a Republican, and yet she was still endorsed by organized labor.
“I might be the first Chamber president ever to be endorsed by the AFL-CIO, but I don’t know that for sure,” she said. “It is an endorsement that means a lot to me, because it lets everyone know where I stand immediately.”
The lawmaker’s first priority, Storch insisted, is her family. She is a mother of three, and has been married to Tom Storch for 18 years. Seth is 17, Alexis is 14, and Payton is 8 years old.
“I’m a ‘Soccer Mom,’ a ‘Hockey Mom,’ and whatever kind of mom my kids need,” she said with a laugh. “They keep us busy, but that’s OK because they have grown up so fast.
“And Tom is my best friend. It’s really that simple.”
Storch started in her new position on July 1, following 19 years with Terry Sterling as the Chamber president. Prior to accepting the position, she worked for her father’s fabricating company, Ohio Valley Steel, since 1993.
“The one thing I miss the most is the sound of a factory building things,” she admitted. “I miss the bangs and the sounds of machinery. And I don’t have to wear a hard hat every day now, and I think I even miss that part, too.”
It’s different on Market Street.
“The loudest noise I hear in my Chamber office is when the air conditioner kicks on, and that’s not quite the same,” she said sarcastically. “But what we’re building here in Wheeling is making a different kind of noise.”
Novotney: You are a very busy lady with your work with the Chamber and the West Virginia Legislature. How do you have time for your family?
Storch: I always have a full calendar because of the responsibilities, but I’ll give you an example of how I handle it. My older daughter came to me a few nights ago and I asked me if I could take her to dinner. So I scrapped a couple of things, and I took Alexis to dinner. I figure that, because she’s 14 years old right now, it’s more important to sit with her and listen to what she has to say than it is to do other things right now.
I just pray I am balancing everything OK.
Novotney: What is more challenging for you – being the Chamber president and a state lawmaker or being the mother or two teenagers?
Storch: Being the mother of two teenagers.
But I’m lucky because I have children who want to talk with me and tell me what they tell me.
Novotney: Since you were first elected to represent the citizens of the state’s Third House District in 2010, your schedule has kept you moving. Do you still find time to relax and enjoy yourself?
Storch: I need to learn how to relax, and I have been working on that a lot, especially since it’s my son’s last year in high school, it’s his last living at home, and it’s the last year we’ll have that family unit that we have come to know. So I have really tried to work on that because I want to cherish it as much as possible. There are times when we are all spending time together, and I refuse to answer my phone, and I refuse any other distractions.
Novotney: But, inevitably, some commitments do take you away from that family unit?
Storch: Those are challenging times; I can tell you that. Overall, it’s really not that bad because my two oldest children have very busy lives themselves. They play sports and extracurricular activities, and they have a lot of friends. They are the ages that they know what is expected of them. They aren’t perfect children, but they do know their responsibilities.
Novotney: What led you to make the decision to resign from your father’s company, Ohio Valley Steel, and accept the position of president of the Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce?
Storch: Big changes started taking place with Ohio Valley Steel in 2009. That’s when the economy collapsed and we had layoffs, and it changed the work environment. That industry changed, too, and wasn’t the way it used to be. When I first started (in 1993), the people involved with projects actually talked about the bids we submitted so everyone fully understood how that bid was developed. Now, it’s all about the lowest number. The Cameron school project is the perfect example.
Novotney: The Cameron school project caused you to look into the state’s School Building Authority. What parts of that project concerned you the most?
Storch: All of it. It was the worst project Ohio Valley Steel was ever involved with. The hairs on my neck started to stand up soon after we got involved. It was the environment. I kept thinking to myself, “It’s not supposed to be like this.”
It was something that could have been a good thing, but it was destroyed for the taxpayers as far as I’m concerned.
Novotney: During the construction of the Cameron schools, a pair of school shootings took place, including the tragedy in Sandy Hook, Conn. Were changes made to the design of the Cameron facility to further secure the student, faculty, and staff from an outside threat?
Storch: When you enter Cameron High School, you walk through the front doors and up a flight of steps. That’s where you encounter a glass door that is locked. But it’s glass, and it’s not bulletproof glass. Wheeling Park High School was constructed 40 years ago in a way that is safer than the Cameron building, and that’s because Cameron was built for everyone to win awards.
Novotney: Why did you decide to run for re-election in the Third House District?
Storch: I have attended a lot of functions, and I have done everything possible to be able to talk with as many people as possible. It’s always been important to me to listen to the concerns of the people and to take those concerns to Charleston. That’s what the job is supposed to be about, so I will also adhere to that job description for as long as the people allow me to.
Novotney: What seems to be the most important issue your constituents have expressed to you?
Storch: Roads. I have heard a lot about roads. That’s a constant. Roads. Roads. Roads.
The one issue I have heard about it as well concerns the panhandling that’s been taking place. It’s been happening at gas stations, parking lots, and grocery stores. It’s everywhere. I was gassing up last week and I had my daughter with me. While I was filling up, someone came up to me and asked me if I wanted to, “help some Texans get back to Texas?”
That time I said, “No,” because I had helped two other people that very same day.
Novotney: What can a West Virginia lawmaker do about panhandling?
Storch: Right now I have the House counsel researching exactly what is on the books and how it has been interpreted through the years. If there are laws on the books, then I think we have to ask for those laws to be enforced. We need to protect our citizens.
I have absolutely no idea why this is taking place all of a sudden. If there’s something already on the books, then I will not seek any new legislation. In that case, I think we all need to say, “No. Go to work.”
Novotney: Is the Northern Panhandle ignored by most members of the West Virginia Legislature?
We have different challenges and different issues, so I consider it part of my job to be loud, to be vocal, and to get attention during the sessions. It gets frustrating sometimes, I admit, because some of the delegates don’t look into the issues if they do not impact their areas. For example, some areas have white water rafting and no above-ground storage tanks. How much do they care about the issue that contaminated 300,000 people for a couple of months around the Kanawha County area? How much do they care about an area like ours that has those kinds of tanks?
Novotney: What is the future of Wheeling?
Storch: I think we are very lucky to have a lot of young people who are coming back to Wheeling to make Wheeling their home. I think those folks are seeing that they can have a lot of great things to do and also make a living. That’s awesome.
There are challenges. We all know there will always be challenges. The best news is that those challenges are now being addressed instead of being ignored, and we’re already seeing the differences that approach is making.