I-68 corridor develops diverse economic opportunities

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Interstate 68 is a 112-mile highway from West Virginia to Maryland and serves as an economic driver for tourism, aero space, tech and supply chain industries.

Friday, U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee, Senators Ben Cardin, Joe Manchin, and Chris Van Hollen met virtually with leaders of the I-68 Regional Alliance.

The group talked about ways to promote regional collaboration among the five counties in states along the I-68 corridor to maintain the infrastructure and create economic growth. The Appalachian Regional Commission plays a key role in bringing all parties together.

Rocket Center, West Virginia is home to an industrial complex that employs about 1,000 people in defense-related jobs.

“Rocket Center as we call it,”U.S. Senator Joe Manchin said,”We have ABL (Allegany Ballistics Laboratory), the largest defense firm in West Virginia is Northrup-Gruman as well as IBM and various government agencies and that area is still growing.”

The Allegany Ballistics Laboratory produces advanced composite structures for the F-22 Raptor and other aerospace projects. The company operates six of 11 known advanced fiber placement machines, in addition to producing 30mm shells for Apache helicopters, training grenades, fuze-proximity sensors, mortars, warheads, and tank ammunition. Also on the site is the Robert C. Byrd Complex where companies have rented space to do secure research, among them IBM who is digitizing data on hurricane cleanup, avian influenza, and weather records.

The West Virginia portion of the corridor offers a slower pace and many outdoor opportunities not available in nearby urban areas.

“They love to come out to work in a place where they can recreate, buy a larger piece of property and enjoy that region of our state,”U.S. Senator Shelley Moore-Capito said,”So, that becomes a selling point.”

“We appreciate every job in West Virginia, as does Maryland, as does Pennsylvania because that one job is very special to that one person that gets that job,”Manchin said,”So, we take every one of those seriously.”

Infrastructure like broadband, roads and affordable housing will key drivers in the continued growth of the region, according to Senator Capito.

“Both, with tourism and job development and having the infrastructure is going to be very critical to areas in the I-68 corridor,” Capito said.

Rural areas and public parks along the corridor, particularly in western Maryland and into West Virginia look to benefit from the Great American Outdoors Act as well.

“The tourism industry, I can’t tell you with the Great American Outdoors Act that we just passes in the most bipartisan way,”Manchin said,”It’s the greatest thing we’ve done for our environment in the last fifty years.”