The longtime head of the Charleston Area Alliance will soon leave his position to take over as chief executive officer and director of the West Virginia Regional Technology Park, in South Charleston.
Matt Ballard, who served the Charleston Area Alliance for about 15 years, will resign from his position and start at the Tech Park on Sept. 14. The Higher Education Policy Commission, which owns the Tech Park and appoints its board members, approved Ballard’s hiring unanimously at a special meeting Friday morning.
“I have really enjoyed being able to be a part of an organization that has helped create jobs. That’s a great feeling,” Ballard said. “But the work of an economic developer is never done. Someone will always need a job. That is something I stay dedicated to, helping people with in our community.”
With Ballard’s departure, Steve Rubin will take over as interim CEO of the alliance. Rubin is the immediate past chairman of the alliance’s board and a managing member of Penn Avenue Holdings, JBS Resources and Rubin Brothers, in Charleston.
Ballard said he plans to take the key components of his job at the alliance — economic development and business recruitment — with him to the Tech Park as he tries to bring more businesses to the area.
Currently, Ballard said, there are 25 businesses in operation at the Tech Park and several open office and laboratory spaces. A large portion of the park is occupied by BridgeValley Community and Technical College, which, over the past year, has expressed interest in relocating at least some of its campus to Charleston.
Nothing is final yet regarding a move, and Ballard said he understands BridgeValley’s interest in growing in another location, but the school is a huge asset for the Tech Park.
“We want [BridgeValley] to be happy, to continue to recruit students. We certainly want them to stay at the park and appreciate them being there now and the certain gravitas they bring with having the students there on the campus,” Ballard said. “At the same time, they have to make their plans, and we understand that.”
In addition to having a student presence, Ballard said the Tech Park is unique in other ways he is eager to explore. For one, he said, there are ample lab spaces available that different industries could utilize.
“Any kind of technology, engineering, chemistry — those are the real focus of the park, and including education of course,” Ballard said. “Research and really applied research, too. Those will probably be our focus.”
There’s also the pilot plants, which allow “innovators” to bring an idea and develop it into something physical to market, Ballard said.
“The Tech Park has really unique assets — it’s not just offices. Its lab facility is, I believe, the only one in the valley,” Ballard said. “What happens at the [Tech Park] really does impact the region.”
In his time at the Charleston Area Alliance, Ballard built relationships with all types of businesses in the Charleston and Kanawha Valley area. He said he sees those connections helping him as he adjusts to his new role. Still, Ballard said, he knows there will be challenges as he takes over at the Tech Park.
The COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing, and the economic fallout could be around for years. That doesn’t make it easy to bring new businesses into the Tech Park, Ballard said.
“It’s difficult to recruit new companies anywhere, any time, but, during a pandemic, that gets even more difficult. Things are less stable, people don’t want to take what they may see as risks,” Ballard said. “That’s OK, though. It will all work out, and we will stand through this. Economic development is something that happens in a team effort, and we have a great team here.”
Ballard said the pandemic is adding to the struggle for people in nearly every industry. He recalls being at the Charleston Area Alliance throughout and after the 2008-09 recession. Economic development was not an easy job then, and it won’t be now, but he said he’s confident things will be OK.
Ballard said he believes thatm while not everyone in the area uses the Tech Park itself, most benefit from its existence. The park employs residents from more than 19 counties, he said. As more businesses come in, they can help better diversify the region’s economy, in turn, upping property value and opportunities for those who live here.
“Any time you can attract any new company to the area, they make a capital investment that helps the construction companies. Then, they help create jobs, and that has a ripple effect,” Ballard said. “Any time we can help the tax base, we help the people living here.”