Harvard MBA students visit Charles Pointe to learn more about TIF's role in economic development

Bridgeport, WV. A team of twenty-three students and a regional research director from Harvard University took time to learn more about the economic challenges and opportunities unique to West Virginia and the Appalachian Region during a recent four-day visit in Bridgeport.

The 23 graduate students are part of a special Masters in Business Administration (MBA) program hosted by the Harvard Business School. While all of the participants are full time students, they come from hometowns from 14 different states and three countries.

Since 2018, Harvard teams visiting West Virginia have been hosted by WV Secretary of State Mac Warner. Warner first learned about the visitation teams during his visit to Harvard in 2017. Warner has hosted four separate MBA teams since 2018.

"These visiting teams from Harvard are made up of some of the brightest young business minds in the world," said Secretary Warner. "Their visit here gives us the opportunity to introduce them to the challenges and opportunities unique to West Virginia."

The Harvard team arrived in Bridgeport on Thursday evening, November 10th. They were welcomed at the Bridgeport Conference Center by Secretary Warner, State Senator -elect Ben Queen, who represents Harrison County and real estate developer Jamie Corton from Genesis Partners. One of the primary learning opportunities during the visit was for the team to understand more about Tax Incremental Financing (TIF). Specifically, they wanted to know how TIF could help encourage and create public-private partnerships to develop flat land for economic development in rural areas.

Genesis Partners is the developer of Charles Pointe - a 1,700 acre award winning Master Planned Community located in Bridgeport. Genesis Partners worked closely with the Harrison County Commission and the City of Bridgeport for major earth moving and the installation of roads and utilities. Today, Charles Pointe is already home to more than 440 residential units as well as recreational, professional, and retail space.

In October, Genesis Partners announced the opening of Charles Pointe Crossing - a $24 million project that will be home to more than 650,000 square feet of retail and hospitality space. In addition, Menard's will be constructing a 250,000 square foot super center at Charles Pointe Crossing in 2023 and Mon Health announced that they will be building a $20 million community hospital there.

Corton provided the Harvard team with detailed presentations on TIF and how it was successfully used at Charles Pointe. The students were also given a tour of the property to include The Bridge Sports Complex, a $50 million indoor-outdoor recreation center owned by the City of Bridgeport.

Also on Thursday evening, the MBA team visited via Zoom with high-tech CEO and West Virginia native John Chambers. Chambers was born and raised in the Charleston area. He led Cisco Systems, Inc. for many years and is credited with the company's strategy to become one of the most significant high-tech hardware and software companies in the world. During the nearly 90-minute discussion with Chambers, the Harvard team talked with the high-tech titan about his vision for the future, West Virginia's role in the world economy, and cybersecurity.

On Friday, the Harvard MBA team visited Buckhannon and Fayetteville to learn more about West Virginia's efforts to help revive small downtowns into economic centers. While in Buckhannon, the team met with representatives from The WV Development Hub and Create-Buckhannon.

Also on Friday, the team visited the underground exhibition coal mine in Beckley to learn more about and to better understand the mining process. Students had the opportunity to explore the coal mining museum built and hosted by the city of Beckley.

On Saturday, the Harvard team toured the Vantage Ventures business incubator center in the WVU College of Business in Morgantown. Then, WVU President Gordon Gee hosted the team at a pre-game reception at the new Robert Reynolds Hall which serves as the home to the John Chambers College of Business and Economics. The students were also guests at the Oklahoma vs. WVU football game at Milan Puskar Stadium.

On Saturday evening, the MBA team returned to Harrison County to have dinner with WVU Chief Economist Dr. John Deskins. Deskins talked about the current economic situation of the state and the incredible budget surplus being experienced in state government. He attributed the surplus to energy, increasing retail activity after COVID, and the implementation of conservative policies and initiatives by the WV Legislature.

Also on hand for the evening discussion was Steve Cutright and Morris Morrison. Cutright is a Harrison County native and graduate of Roosevelt-Wilson High School. After starting and growing a number of businesses in the mining industry, Cutright joined the John Chambers College of Business and Economics WVU to help create the Encova Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Morrison grew up in nearby Marion County where he was an All State athlete. Today he travels throughout the country as a motivational speaker.

The MBA team's visit ended on Sunday with the Charles Pointe tour and a visit to the Clarksburg Mission and Tomaro's Bakery in Glen Elk. The team met with Mission Executive Director Lou Ortenzio to learn more about West Virginia's struggle with opioid addiction and the state's effort to address the family fallout because of it.

After more than 100 years in operation, Tomaro's Bakery was recently purchased by Joey Oliverio and his family. Oliverio provided the MBA team with a tour of the bakery and a taste of the wildly popular pepperoni roll.

The 2022 Harvard team was led by MBA student Matt Hartzog. Hartzog is a Hurricane, WV native and a graduate of the United States Naval Academy. He spent ten years as a Navy Seal before applying to Harvard for a dual MBA and MS in engineering degree program.

"The MBA team visit to West Virginia was an opportunity for us to learn more about the state's strategy to grow economically and how business and government officials view the role in making that future a reality," Hartzog said. "The strategic use of TIF and the public-private partnership TIF creates is exactly the type of innovative approach that's needed to create uniquely tailored opportunities to attract business and industry."