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)

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.

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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