ST. CLAIRSVILLE — A Bright Future was the topic discussed by members of the St. Clairsville Area Chamber of Commerce at the annual dinner and awards ceremony Wednesday night.
Dowler Hall was packed at Belmont College, and the speaker was a man of ideas who dreamed of touching the stars and had the vision and ingenuity to make it happen.
Chamber manager Wendy Anderson said the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic may have been the “epidemic” year, but 2022 is shaping up to be the “to burst” year.
“Everyone wants to get out of the crisis and companies are doing better this year”, Anderson said, noting that the chamber hosted 188 registered guests for the event. “There are a lot of business leaders here.
There are 500 member companies and professionals in the chamber.
The Safety Professional of the Year Award went to MPR Transloading Supply Chain Solutions for its efforts to promote workplace safety and health, including extensive training and investments in lifting equipment to reduce risk around the barges. President Natalie Brown accepted the award.
A Belco Works representative presented the Distinguished Employer Award to the Ohio Valley Mall and Riesbeck’s Food Market, saying the two companies have made progress in providing employment opportunities for people with disabilities – an underemployed segment of the population . Mall foreman Jennifer Staley and Peter Riesbeck, director of corporate programs, accepted the awards. They congratulated their employees and encouraged other companies to work with Belco Works.
The Community Improvement of the Year award went to Giacinta’s Gelato & Caffè. Owner Audrey Brahler said her business is welcome and she looks forward to serving the area for many years to come.
Kirke Porterfield of Kirke’s Homemade Ice Cream and Brian Thomas of Thomas Auto Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram dealership received the Service Above Self award. Their assistance with the St. Clairsville Christmas Parade and other events and activities was noted. Thomas could not be present. Porterfield thanked the chamber.
Sarah Barickman was named Ambassador of the Year.
The Business of the Year award was tied between Belmont Savings Bank and Chick-fil-A. The WVU Medicine Wheeling Hospital sponsored the award. Director Joe Slavik of the Howard Long Wellness Center said the competition between outstanding companies is fierce.
Stacy Austin, owner/operator of Chick-fil-A, said cooperation and encouragement from the chamber was one of the reasons the company decided to open a restaurant at the Ohio Valley Mall in 2020.
Todd Cover, president of Belmont Savings Bank, said the bank is committed to improving the area and helping the chamber and other organizations.
The keynote speaker was Brian Joseph, President and CEO of Touchstone Research Lab in Triadelphia. An innovator and inventor, Joseph said he was passionate about the development of new technologies and about businesses resulting from new inventions. He began his speech with a look back at technological developments such as new ways of making steel and blowing glass with machines, pointing out that while the companies that originally used them had rises and falls, the technology remains and has been developed and is now used in things such as automatic bottle making and food packaging.
“That’s what inventions do, and that’s what we do. We like to invent things and then turn them into companies,” he said.
He talked about some of the developments at Touchstone, such as windows for space capsules and work related to commercial launches into space.
Joseph said that in the future the world can expect a movement towards cities. He said the greatest need that the nations of the world will face is the need for more people, and engineering schools and a strong engineering population will attract investors.
He said the number of buildings in the world could double and the best and cleanest building material for these buildings will be hydrocarbons. His company has developed CFOAM, a lightweight coal-based product that can be used for construction.
“Sometimes it’s hard to identify when the biggest opportunities are in your backyard,” he said.
Other possibilities include placing solar sails in space to collect energy.
He also mentioned the ExOne North American Research Center in St. Clairsville, where former Touchstone employee and Belmont College alumnus Rick Lucas is making progress in areas such as 3D printing.
Joseph said there is more potential for the future, including stronger, fatigue-resistant forms of aluminum that can provide thermal protection for the exterior of rockets. He said Touchstone also makes stronger chrome and copper alloys.
“The uses will be endless” he said. “I think we can build a manufacturing plant within 20 miles (32 km) of our factory in about 20 months. That’s the plan.”
“There’s so much going on in this area that people don’t know” said Ed Mowrer, director of the Belmont College Energy Institute. “Dr. Joseph is just a pioneer in many of these ventures. … It’s important to know how the Ohio Valley contributes to all of these ventures like aerospace and space and different manufacturing. … He has hired many of our graduates over the years.
“Knowing that this innovation is here locally is just amazing,” Slavic said. “It is a pearl that we do not know.”
“We want people to be excited about the future, and it’s part of the future,” Anderson said.