BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. (WV News) — Despite the challenges brought forth by the COVID-19 pandemic, the North Central West Virginia economy continues to be a bright spot in the Mountain State, and it’s one of the reasons for the state’s upward trajectory so often mentioned by Gov. Jim Justice.
One of the key elements of NCWV’s growth is the development of the White Oaks Business Park located on Jerry Dove Drive, across from the WVU Medicine United Hospital Center complex.
The development, which took root under the leadership of Woody Thrasher and Jack Keeley, is now operated by Thrasher and his sons. The 470-acre park is home to more than 20 professional service companies, 11 food establishments, five banks, four hotels, three retail shops and three gas/convenience stores.
“What Woody Thrasher, his business and family have been able to do with that business park has been truly amazing,” Harrison County Commissioner Patsy Trecost said.
“It has brought jobs to the region and kept other companies from leaving by providing them with the ability to build new, modern, start-of-the-art facilities.”
For their efforts to grow North Central West Virginia’s economy while providing more jobs for native sons and daughters, and inviting new people to move here, White Oaks Business Park has been named WV News’ Private Project of the Year.
Woody Thrasher is no stranger to economic success, as he’s grown the small engineering firm started by his father and he about 40 years ago into one of the top firms, The Thrasher Group, with five offices in West Virginia, as well as locations in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
But Thrasher’s move into owning and operating an economic development project took root in 2008 and opened in 2009, right when the Great Recession was wreaking havoc.
“It was the peak of (that) crash,” Thrasher said. “Not the best of timing.”
Fast forward 13 years and the same could be said over the past almost two years of the pandemic. And yet, still, White Oaks has not only survived, but thrived.
“There’s been a little difference (in operating during the pandemic,” White Oaks Managing Partner Austin Thrasher said. “Businesses are not quite as quick to spend money.”
But both Austin and Woody Thrasher are confident that not only is White Oaks on firm ground, but it’s primed for continued growth.
“I think White Oaks is heading in a great direction,” Austin Thrasher said. “We’re adding a residential development component. We have more businesses coming in. Wendy’s will be joining our list of restaurants.”
Woody Thrasher says the addition of housing is a “significant” step for the development as it moves to become more of a community setting to add to the already booming business park.
“We believe White Oaks is a great business park,” Woody Thrasher said. “We’ve created meaningful, lastings jobs. Our goal is unchanged, which is to create job opportunities for North Central West Virginia. Jack Keely and I wanted to create jobs and economic activity that would allow West Virginians to stay here, to allow West Virginians’ children to stay here.”
He says White Oaks’ success is a testament to the region — and state’s — ability to diversify the economy.
“White Oaks’ success is definitely a reflection of North Central West Virginia’s diversified economy,” Woody Thrasher said. “When we started, we thought health care would be the primary driver at White Oaks. But as you look about, it’s really been the gas industry. And then Steptoe & Johnson’s decision to move here was huge for us.
“We’ve always been thankful for their pioneering effort in showing the value of moving to our park near the interstate.”
And White Oaks is far from done, with the Thrashers “contemplating a pretty significant earth moving project in the spring,” Woody Thrasher said. “It will be a combination of additional office space and some retail-oriented space.
Both Thrashers understand the blessing they’ve been able to enjoy working together on a project that makes not only a difference to their family, but to many others.
“I live every West Virginian’s dream of having their family here with them,” Woody Thrasher said. “I’m really thankful for that.”
Besides Austin leading the development effort, Woody’s son Kaelin is an accountant. While he’s taken a job with a firm in Morgantown, he is still involved with White Oaks. And, of course, Woody’s son Cody is a well-known restaurateur, operating Cody’s, an upscale dining/pub experience with great food and atmosphere.
Austin Thrasher laughed when questioned on the challenges of working with his dad, adding that it was nice to have his brother along for the experience.
“I’m totally blessed,” Austin Thrasher said in a more serious tone. “This is the type of work I’m interested in, seeing things built and I’m blessed to be able to work with my dad and learn from him.”