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Special session looms over West Virginia abortion law, but shape is unclear

West Virginia could be headed toward a special legislative session to refine an abortion law dating to the late 1800s, but it’s not at all clear yet what any revision might be like.

Gov. Jim Justice opened the door to a special session on Friday after a majority of US. Supreme Court justices overturned the Roe vs. Wade conclusions that established a federally-guaranteed right to abortion for the past 50 years.

That decision did not outlaw abortion across the country but instead left the matter to states. West Virginia’s law was inactive during the years Roe was in effect, but was not repealed. The West Virginia law makes performing an abortion a felony punishable by three to 10 years imprisonment.

HOPPY KERCHEVAL: No more Roe, so now what?

Jim Justice

Governor Justice, a Republican, praised the Supreme Court ruling but acknowledged state legislative action could still be necessary.

“I will not hesitate to call a special session after consulting with the Legislature and my legal team if clarification in our laws needs to be made,” Justice stated.

The law on the books in West Virginia dates back to the earliest days of the state. The law says:

Any person who shall administer to, or cause to be taken by, a woman, any drug or other thing, or use any means, with intent to destroy her unborn child, or to produce abortion or miscarriage, and shall thereby destroy such child, or produce such abortion or miscarriage, shall be guilty of a felony, and, upon conviction, shall be confined in the penitentiary not less than three nor more than ten years; and if such woman die by reason of such abortion performed upon her, such person shall be guilty of murder. No person, by reason of any act mentioned in this section, shall be punishable where such act is done in good faith, with the intention of saving the life of such woman or child.

The law does not make any exceptions for rape or incest. There are no exceptions for the early weeks of a pregnancy. And it’s not fully clear if the felony would apply strictly to medical professionals who provide abortions or more broadly to a woman seeking an abortion.

In a joint statement released Friday, Senate President Craig Blair and House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, both Republicans, praised the Supreme Court ruling, saying “we are ready to expeditiously take any necessary steps to ensure we continue to save and protect as many innocent lives as possible in West Virginia.”

The first step, the legislative leaders acknowledged, is assessing West Virginia code and how it would interact with the Supreme Court decision. They said lawyers for the state have been preparing already.

“Abortion is addressed in numerous statutes in West Virginia Code, and now our attorneys will need to further review those statutes to determine how they apply in light of this decision. We will work with the executive branch to address any needs relating to our state’s abortion laws that may arise from today’s opinion,” Blair and Hanshaw stated.

Patrick Morrisey

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, a Republican, said his office will examine the ruling and produce its own legal analysis of the effect on state law.

“I’m going to issue a legal opinion articulating some of the challenges and the ways the Legislature and the governor can deal with this because I want to save as many lives as humanly possible,” he said. “We know that because that law has not been on the books for a long time, a lot of people are going to challenge it.

“It’s my goal to address any of the attacks and make sure there’s a law on the books that’s going to stand that we’re going to be defending, so we’re going to be providing that counsel to the governor and the Legislature in the upcoming days. The goal will be to save as many lives as legally and humanly possible.”

Delegate Kayla Young, D-Kanawha, expressed disappointment over the Supreme Court ruling. Young said West Virginia’s law should be revised to remove its felony penalty.

“I’d like to see the criminal code taken out, that Roe is now a felony in West Virginia as of 10 o’clock this morning,” Young said on MetroNews’ “Talkline.” “The governor has already said he’s going to call a special session, and that’s what I expect to happen.”

But Young suggested the legislative outcome might be more specific restrictions on abortion. “I expect the code to get a lot harsher sentencing,” she said.

“I know a majority of West Virginians do want exceptions for rape, incest, life of the mother and right now we don’t have that,” she said.

West Virginia’s last abortion provider, just a couple of hours after the Supreme Court’s ruling, announced it would have to stop. Leaders at the Women’s Health Center of West Virginia expressed concern that prosecutors could begin trying to immediately enforce an abortion ban based on the state’s 1882 law.

The clinic first opened in 1976 as West Virginia’s first abortion provider.

Katie Quinonez

“However, because of the failure of state lawmakers to repeal an 1882 abortion ban from our state’s criminal code, our clinic cannot safely provide abortion care until further notice,” said Katie Quinonez, executive director of Women’s Health Center of West Virginia.

She said representatives of the clinic had to call 60 to 70 people who were scheduled for upcoming abortions to tell them that would no longer be possible.

“Some patients broke down and could not speak through their sobbing,” Quinonez said during a Friday press conference. “Some patients were stunned and didn’t know what to say. Some patients didn’t know what was happening.”

Loree Stark

Loree Stark, the legal director of ACLU West Virginia, said lawyers would need to analyze the 200-page Supreme Court ruling. 

“Because West Virginia legislators have failed to expressly repeal the statute on the books in West Virginia that does criminalize abortion, an archaic statute — it’s abhorrent — what we’re looking at is exploring aggressively all the different avenues that can be taken, reviewing the decision in its entirely, analyzing how it relates to federal law and to the state law here,” Stark said.

Alisa Clements

Alisa Clements of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic acknowledged a difficult political environment in West Virginia for those who would like to keep abortion as a choice.

She said “the reality in the West Virginia Legislature that we have to deal with is that there is an anti-abortion supermajority in both chambers of the Legislature, and our governor is anti-abortion.”

If a special session is called, Clements said, “it is imperative that they repeal this pre-Roe law in our code that criminalizes abortion.”

Margaret Chapman Pomponio

Updating that old law isn’t politically unrealistic, suggested Margaret Chapman Pomponio, executive director of West Virginia Free.

“We know that there are legislators who do believe that the criminal law goes way too far, both Republicans and Democrats, and we’re calling on them to find the courage, find their compassion and act on it immediately in special session by repealing the code,” she said.

 

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Ripley Hosts Celebration and Fair

Visitors to Ripley may soon enjoy two celebrations. The town is home of West Virginia’s oldest art & craft event and a week-long celebration of America’s Independence.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Mountain State Art & Craft Fair. Known as “The Granddaddy” of fairs, it dates back to the state’s centennial celebration in 1963.

The Fair is July 1-3, 2022 at Cedar Lakes Conference Center. Hours are 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Admission is $5 for those 12-and-older and free for those 11-and-under. Parking is free.

Juried artisans turn the Jackson County site into one the state’s largest shopping venues. They demonstrate and sell a wide selection of hand-made items from glassware and woodwork to jewelry and home décor.

Fair attractions include live music, 10 food trucks, heritage exhibits, hands-on interactive activities and a market place area with tasty food items to take home.

Special activities include a daily quilt show and a kid’s fishing derby on Saturday, July 2. See www.MSACF.com for detailed information.

Meanwhile, Ripley’s Independence Celebration is taking place with free concerts, a carnival, grand parade and fireworks.

Wednesday, June 29 is Gospel Night with special guests The Gospel Harmony Boys at 8 p.m. The Charleston Metro Band has an 8 p.m. Thursday, June 30 concert on the Jackson County Courthouse lawn.

The free music continues on Saturday, July 2. WV singer and songwriter Morgan White will perform with her band at 4 p.m. That’s followed by three bluegrass groups beginning at 7 p.m.

Sunday, July 3 features the U-Turn Christian rock concert. This year’s headliner is Kutless, a group with 3 million albums sold.

A full day of events on Monday, July 4 includes the Firecracker 2-Miler race at 11:30 a.m. just before the noon grand parade. Four more concerts include the Rick K Road Trip at 8 p.m. before the 10 p.m. fireworks.

A scaled replica of The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is on display July 6-8.

See www.RipleyFourthofJuly.com for details.

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Ballot error could lead Doddridge County to run its school board race over

Doddridge County might have to run a do over on its school board election.

That’s because of an error on voting instructions for people who voted early. The error was caught and corrected before Election Day.

But by the mistake could have affected 250 people who voted early. And that could have changed who won.

Three seats are open on the board. The final results, so far, showed that incumbent board member Chad Evans received 755 votes, incumbent board President Denver Burnside received 729, incumbent Laura Cottrill received 723, and candidate Bonnie Davis received 628.

So the spread between the first place finisher and the fourth place finisher is just 127 votes.

The problem is that Evans and Davis live in the same district, known as Beech. And the mistake was that the initial instructions told people to only vote for one candidate from each district. Actually, up to two candidates from each district are eligible to serve at any one time.

“I thought somewhere along the line that every district should have to be represented, so they proved me wrong,” said Catee Slater, the Doddridge county clerk. “It was a mistake and I own it.”

As soon as the error was drawn to Slater’s attention she acknowledged it and made sure machines at precincts were correct on Election Day.

But those 250 early voters, if they had received the correct instructions, might have made different ballot choices.

The Doddridge County Commission is set for a 10 a.m. Monday special meeting in West Union to decide what to do. The agenda openly describes the situation as an error on ballots for the board of education election.

One of the options could be to carry out a special election, which would be an unanticipated expense but could resolve the problem somewhat soon. Another resolution could be running the school board race again during the General Election in November.

Davis, a 67-year-old retired school system employee, finished the first vote narrowly on the outside looking in. She filed a formal complaint.

“The ballot was wrong, to make a long story short,” she said in a telephone interview.

Davis said she isn’t upset but would just like the election circumstances to be correct.

“It was such a small margin. Percentage-wise, we all had 20-some percent on the ballot. Percentage-wise, it was so small that it definitely could have changed the outcome of the election,” she said.

“Whether I win or lose if it’s revoted, that’s OK but at least it will be a valid ballot that he citizens of Doddridge County voted on. They have that right to do that.”

Davis worked for the local school system for 34 years, starting as a cook. She then got a degree that led to work as a paraprofessional in kindergarten and special education classrooms. After she retired, some supporters suggested she run for the board. “I know the system pretty much inside and out. I had some ideas I wanted to suggest and have done,” she said.

Doddridge County’s school system has been fairly well off, in large part because of the active natural gas industry producing property taxes. That has resulted in money to spend on new schools and athletic facilities. Evans noted that when people are considering moving to a new community one of the first factors they examine is the school system.

“The board of education is a small thing,” Davis said, “but it’s a big thing to Doddridge County.”

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Johnson not letting Bearcats settle for less despite loss of strong senior class

It’s been just over three months since Grafton’s boys basketball program wrapped up its most successful season in recent memory.

The senior-laden Bearcats won 18 games and were seeded fifth in the Class AAA state tournament, where GHS suffered a quarterfinal loss to Wheeling Central Catholic despite holding a 10-point lead in the third quarter.

It was a season to remember for coach Mike Johnson’s team, one that featured a fast-paced and balanced offensive attack. For as enjoyable as it was, the Bearcats regularly started four seniors that combined to average 56.6 of the team’s 73.1 points.

Gone are top scorer Ryan Maier (21.8 ppg), fellow guard Justin Spiker (16), versatile forward Kaden Delaney (12.8) and steady wing Tanner Moats, who averaged six points.

“We graduated a really good class of kids and probably 85 percent of our scoring, so you have to replace that,” Johnson said. “But there’s a good core nucleus there.”

Rising senior forward JT Veltri is the top returning scorer and the post presence was a key contributor last season with a 6.6 scoring average. Then-sophomore guards Jacob Maier and Isaac Lough were also important pieces and the duo combined to average 4.9 points in reserve roles.

“The biggest thing for us is to gain some experience,” Johnson said. “We can put in some stuff and set a bit of a foundation. We don’t think the cupboard is bare. We have some good young talent, but the key is it’s just young talent. Maybe it’s going to be a bit of a rollercoaster at times, but those are things that we’ll work through and that’s what this period is for.”

The 6-foot-3 Veltri has been an integral part of the Bearcats each of the last two seasons, though he is taking on an expanded role that means often going from another option to the top option.

“We told him after the season was over that the biggest thing for him was having to develop more of an outside touch,” Johnson said. “He’s spent some time working on that. He’s shot the ball much better.. He’ll be the focal point when we go into play, but that’s just the nature of it when you’ve been a two or three-year starter. You’re going to draw a lot of attention.”

During the three-week offseason workout period, Veltri has not only attempted to showcase a more developed skill set, but also provide leadership to a group that had most of its top voices move on.

It’s something Johnson has seen from Veltri since shortly after the Bearcats suffered the season-ending setback to the Maroon Knights.

“JT kind of took that initiative right after we were done in Charleston. We got back and started organizing some guys to get into the gym and weight room and he kind of took that upon himself early on, which is exactly what you want as a coach,” Johnson said. “If you can get a group that’s player driven and senior led like that, it pays dividends. He’s kind of embraced that role and done a really good job with it.”

While there’s no debating the talent and impact of Grafton’s 2022 graduating class and what that group meant to the program’s success over the last several seasons, Johnson believes his squad has a chance to develop into another state tournament qualifying group.

The Bearcats qualified for the Class AA state tournament in 2019, though as the No. 8 seed with a team that finished 11-16. In 2021, they missed out on the state tournament by one game when they fell to Robert C. Byrd in a region co-final, though Grafton’s improvement was displayed in its 12-6 record.

While Johnson is well aware many will expect his team to take a step back come winter, the Bearcats’ head coach is using the summer to make sure his roster is aware of what’s expected.

“The goal for us every year is not to win the Big 10. Our goal is for our season to end in Charleston,” Johnson said. “That goal doesn’t change. We have a sign on our door that says, ‘The standard is the standard.’ We kind of stole it from the Steelers. No matter who comes through the door, the expectation doesn’t change.

“We’ve really pushed that the last couple years and these kids have embraced that. That’s why our program has been successful.”

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Morgantown firefighters plea for action as new personnel rules loom

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – New personnel rules for Morgantown city employees take effect in July and some first responders are sounding alarms.

International Association of Firefighters Local 313 President Mitchell Beall told city council members when he started about 10 years ago it was one of the best fire service jobs in the state but that’s not the case now.

“Our benefit package was top notch. Now, our benefit package is almost eliminated, our pay is mediocre at best and we don’t lead anywhere across the state of West Virginia anymore,” Beall said.

Beall said firefighters are bracing for life changes that will come when new personnel rules kick in.

One firefighter with a spouse in the West Virginia National Guard was accustomed to using a combination of paid time off, sick leave and vacation time to watch their children while she is away training- that will no longer be allowed. According to the firefighter, he would be on unpaid status in order to take time off to watch his young children.

“They took away over half of our time off, all our sick time is gone and now when I take a day off I get penalized for that financially,” Beall said. “I really hope you take a look at the city personnel rules.”

Morgantown recently paid GovHR to complete a wage and compensation study to lay the groundwork for the personnel policy changes. According to the executive summary from City Manager Kim Haws, salaries for some employees increased by about $120,000 in the new budget as a result of the study.

However, members of the police and fire departments have said the net effect of the study doesn’t make the city more competitive. Beall said the pay reductions will result in good officers and firefighters leaving the city in the interest of their futures and families.

“South Charleston did the same study and told the consulting firm they have to be in the top 10 percent in the state be competitive,” Beall said. “We go to our consultant and say we just want to be average.”

Firefighters did not receive a cost of living increase last year but were granted the customary pay bump this year. Due to the elimination of hazard, shift differential and longevity pay, Beall believes the cost-of-living increase could be offset by thousands of dollars in lost wages.

“I can understand we can’t stay up with inflation- 15 percent this year and 10 percent last year,” Beall said. “So, you give me a cost-of-living adjustment of three percent, I’m sorry but, even if you didn’t give me that I’m still losing money from last year.”

Beall told councilors the Morgantown Fire Department is down five firefighters; independent reports have said the Morgantown Police Department is down about 20 officers. The changes in pay and benefits are making it much harder to bring trained first responders, or recruits to Morgantown, Beall said.

“Nobody is coming here in droves to apply for jobs anymore and we do want to be the premiere city to work for,” Beall said. “I love working for the city of Morgantown, I love living in Morgantown and it’s just very sad where we have gone.”

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Raleigh church fire being investigated as arson

DILLON, W.Va. — A Sunday morning fire that destroyed an historic Raleigh County church building is being investigated as an arson.

According to the Beaver Volunteer Fire Department, the Saint Colman Catholic Church building along Irish Spring Road in Dillon, not far from Shady Spring, was already on the ground and smoldering when firefighters arrived on the scene Sunday morning.

The church, built in 1877-78, is on the National Register of Historic Places, a designation that came in 1984. Services are no longer held there.

State police and the state Fire Marshal’s Office are investigating the arson. Anyone with information is asked to contact Trooper D. Daniels at (304) 256-6700, the WV State Fire Marshal’s Arson Hotline at 1 (800) 233-3473 or Crime Stoppers of Raleigh County at 304-255-STOP or crimestopperswv.com.

The Beaver VFD was assisted on the scene by Ghent VFD, Coal City VFD, Ghent EMS, National Park Service and state police.

Reporter Keith Thompson of WJLS contributed to this story. 

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Justice says his administration will miss Ed Gaunch

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice said retiring Commerce Secretary Ed Gaunch has been an effective member of his administration.

“I could not have been more blessed, there’s no way, than having you in that job. You’ve done a great job and I’m so happy for you,” Justice said last Friday.

Ed Gaunch

Gaunch is stepping down after three years as Commerce secretary. He was a state senator representing Kanawha County before that. Justice appointed Gaunch after he was defeated in the 2018 election.

Gaunch won a Senate seat after 34 years in the insurance business. He grew up in Boone County as is a graduate of West Virginia State University.

Woody Thrasher was Justice’s first secretary of commerce but Justice announced Thrasher’s resignation in June 2018 after complaints connected to recovery efforts from the 2016 flood.

Gaunch said he’s enjoyed the job.

“It has been my pleasure and privilege to serve the State of West Virginia,” Gaunch said concerning his retirement. “Over the past several years, we have been continuously striving to ensure West Virginia is an amazing place to live, play, and do business. I am proud of what the Justice Administration and the Department of Commerce have accomplished and look forward to the state’s continued successes.”

Gov. Jim Justice

Justice said he still wants to hear from Gaunch.

“I don’t you to just go away. I want you to know that you’re welcome anytime to stroll in to give us great advice and great wisdom as you’ve done many times,” Justice said.

Gaunch’s retirement becomes effective July 15.

Justice will choose his replacement at a later date.

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Clendenin couple opens new brewery 6 years after historic flood

CLENDENIN, W.Va. — There’s a new craft brewery in downtown Clendenin.

The owners of Clendenin Brewing Company on Main Street have been enjoying their first few days of business as the Kanawha County town marked the sixth anniversary of the historic June 2016 flood.

Matt and Nikki Holbert officially opened the brewery on Saturday. The Holberts told MetroNews last week they wanted to do something to help give back to the community.

“The flood devastated everything up here, so everybody’s been trying to come back and grown since then. It’s a growing process,” Nikki Holbert said.

The brewery, which includes a tap room, is located on the main floor of the former Farmers & Citizens State Bank building. The Holberts purchased the builing in 2018.

“We came through right after the flood. It was Chase right after the flood. They decided not to reopen. We decided to look at it and got a good deal on it,” Holbert said.

In addition to the brewery, the Holberts also own four Airbnb rooms which are available for rent. Nikki Holbert said there’s also outdoor activities like hiking and kayaking nearby, making for a great summer trip to Clendenin.

“The rail trail has come through, there’s a lot of kayakers on the weekend and people are tubing, things like that. There’s some businesses that are coming back into town which is nice to see,” she said.

Clendenin Mayor Kay Summers previously told MetroNews she is always looking for ways to increase tourism and boost economic growth in town by welcoming new businesses.

Saturday’s event included live music, local craft vendors, ax throwing and cornhole tournaments.

There are six beers available including the Clendenin Cream Ale, the Amber Knights Amber Ale, the Mothgirl Citrus IPA, the Pentacre Porter, the Belgium Triple, Big Sandy Session IPA and the Toehead Blonde.

“Big Sandy is the name of the creek here on the Elk River. It’s centennial standard, not as strong as a West Coast IPA, but just a moderate IPA with some bitterness to it,” brewmaster Tom Dawson explained.

The Holberts also own Charleston-based Axes & Ales and Bricks & Barrels.

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Economic development efforts in Marion County ramp up

FARIMONT, W.Va. – The Marion Regional Development Corporation is now the recognized economic advancement organization for the county.

MRDC Executive Director Allen Staggers said the city of Fairmont and the Marion County officially voted to work with and fund the organization last year.

Allen Staggers

The initial operating budget for the organization is $92,270, which includes $35,000 each from the county commission and the city of Fairmont and a $22,270 from West Virginia Local Economic Development Grant, used to make Marion County a certified business location.

“It started out lending money to businesses and they developed the first industrial park in Fairmont,” Staggers said. “Through the years FICC and MRDC have developed the Technology Park in Fairmont and several other parks.”

One of the first priorities was to establish a presence on the internet. A top priority for that webpage was an inventory of available buildings, land or developable land  in Marion County

Currently sites that are ready for commerce or manufacturing are in very high demand, Staggers said.

“People that are looking for sites and or buildings customarily are looking for databases or websites with data bases with information about available sites and buildings. So that was very important for us.”

One priority for the MRDC is development of the 70-acre Sharon Steel site. The site had been a coke works and steel plant for many years, but now the site remediated and is prepared to market to organizations looking to expand. Staggers is working with the city of Fairmont to be named the developer of that site.

Staggers said there many companies in the area that manufacture and design automotive parts and electronics. He’s hopeful that site could be transformed into an automotive research campus.

“A series of ovals, curves and intersections where autonomous vehicles can be tested or companies that are working on alternative fuels or battery technology or development,” Staggers said. “It can be a contained test track for them.”

The organization is also focused on helping retain existing businesses and help them grow or find new markets. Additionally, the MRDC is also a resource for companies that may need technical assistance or market information.

“Companies might be working on a project and need some technical assistance- we don’t have all the answers, but we know where other resources are located,” Staggers said.

One of the first efforts was helping the Fairmont Hills RV Park extend water, sewer, WiFi and electricity. The park at 930 East Grafton Road markets its proximity to Middletown Commons, shopping and a major RV dealership that can help with maintenance needs.

“They just had their groundbreaking last week and from what I hear they’re expecting a lot of traffic and they have many reservations,” Staggers said. “Clearly it’s a need for this area and I think they’ll do pretty well.”

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Harrison County aviation company announces expansion

BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. – The aircraft industry continues to grow in the Bridgeport area.

The efforts include a new terminal and business park under construction at the North Central West Virginia Airport along with the expansion of aviation maintenance/pilot training programs.

Engine Management Specialist recently announced plans to expand its operations to a 40,000-square foot facility on Route 19 south of Clarksburg.

Tim Critchfield

EMS owner and president Tim Critchfield said the new division, Turbine Engine Component Specialist, will add to the company mission of providing cost effective engine maintenance options worldwide.

“As we do that and you add things to your capability list, we anticipate growth in that facility will add anywhere from 50 to 75 additional employees,” Critchfield said.

EMS has been an industry authority on Pratt & Whitney turbo engines since 2003. The company does not provide typical maintenance, but offers complete overhauls, major repairs and engine exchanges.

Currently, EMS has a total of 20 workers with a shop in Clarksburg and an inventory facility in Bridgeport.

For engines that have reached the end of their service life the company offers a program called reduce-to-spares. Technicians deconstruct engines and salvaged parts are tested for reuse under FAA guidelines.

“The tagging then allows, under the FAA standards, for it to be reintroduced into other engines which reduces the overhaul repair costs and keeps it economical for the corporate engine market,” Critchfield said.

Major engine events can be unpredictable, costly and must be addressed quickly. With that in mind, EMS can travel to any facility to inspect engine parts and coordinate all phases of an overhaul or major repair.

“We don’t have a certain region, we’re pretty much worldwide,” Critchfield said. “We’ve traveled all over Europe, South America, North America and so forth in the work that we typically bring right here to Bridgeport, West Virginia.”

The company draws from the aviation programs operated at the North Central West Virginia Airport allowing students to graduate and immediately go to work. Critchfield said they often provide opportunities to graduates from the Pierpont Community and Technical College 68-credit hour vocational program.

“Our high wage is about $150,000-per year, so there’s a huge range for people to be able to grow within our industry that apply themselves and help build the business- we reward them,” Critchfield said.

Critchfield said there will be a long term need for talented aircraft maintenance technicians, so they helped the school acquire a functional, non-flight rated aircraft to facilitate realism in training.

“Those are real-time engines that are currently being used in aircraft that are being used in today’s market which is pretty unique for an A & P school because usually it’s old worn-out stuff.”

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