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Editor’s Desk: Leadership class a golden opportunity for business professionals

By Robert Saunders, Metro Editor
Jon Webster, left, speaks with members of the Leadership Putnam County class as they tour the John E. Amos Plant.
Jarrod Dean, director of Putnam County Parks & Recreation, gives a presentation on Valley Park renovations.
Ashley Alford, interim Putnam County Chamber of Commerce president, ran the Leadership class.

In one of life’s little ironies, the day President Trump announced he was pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement, I was 18 stories high standing on a metal grate at the coal-fired John E. Amos Plant.

The power plant tour was one of the highlights of the 2017 Leadership Putnam County class sponsored by the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce. I was privileged to be a part of this year’s program.

Aside from being awestruck by the massive cooling towers, giant furnaces and steam turbines that generate the AEP plant’s electrical power, I was impressed with the staff, who gave us an informative program before the tour. For example, I didn’t realize that the Amos Plant is one of the largest power plants in the U.S., that it consumes seven million tons of coal a year, or that the price tag for the scrubbers installed to remove sulfur dioxide from emissions was higher than the cost to build the plant.

The scrubbers are 95 percent effective in removing the sulfur, according to Jon Webster, one of the AEP workers who led our tour. But when it comes to carbon emissions, Webster conceded that coal can’t compete with natural gas, and likely never will. He said there are no plans to convert the Amos Plant to gas. Paris notwithstanding, there are two sides to our race for a low-carbon future, and Webster effectively laid out the case for coal.

On the other side of the industrial equation, another highlight of our Leadership class was a trip to Toyota. If Amos, with its reliance on coal and steam power, has the appearance of an iconic Industrial Age facility, by contrast, the Toyota engine plant resembles a futuristic environment of robotics and automation.

Add to this visual experience Toyota’s management philosophy of “obeya,” or “great room,” and it’s easy to see why Toyota is a production leader in today’s market.

And this represents just two weeks of our class. Over nine weeks, Interim Chamber of Commerce President Ashley Alford led us behind the scenes all over Putnam County. Other visits included:

• Trips to the courthouse and Judicial Building, where we got an initiation into how county government and the judicial system work

• A firsthand look at services offered at Teays Valley Physical Therapy and CAMC Teays Valley Hospital

• One week devoted to academics, which included representatives of Marshall Teays Valley Regional Center, Strayer University and Putnam County Schools

Ashley did a great job lining up multiple guest speakers every week.

Jarrod Dean, director of Putnam County Parks & Recreation, took time out from his overseeing the construction at Valley Park to give us a presentation on the $15 million renovation set to transform the park into a destination for sports tournaments and conventions.

Chief Circuit Judge Phillip Stowers spoke at length on the rising jail costs facing the county, and some of the alternative solutions to traditional incarceration.

We heard from the West Virginia Development Office and the Putnam County Development Authority about international investment in our region. It’s growing, and it’s more than just Japan.

We learned about the good work Goodwill is doing to give people the skills they need to enter -- or reenter -- the workforce.

We even did a scavenger hunt. I thought my partner, Bob Shaw, and I were doing well, until I mistakenly took us to the wrong construction project (I guess I thought Valley Park was a little too obvious). But Ashley was nice about it, and we still enjoyed the free lunch from Fat Patty’s.

The program concluded with a breakfast and graduation ceremony at Sleepy Hollow Golf Club, where Cheri Bever, president and CEO of Goodwill Industries of the Kanawha Valley, was our speaker.

My group was the 28th Putnam Leadership class. Each year, there is space for 20 participants. I recommend this class as a great opportunity.

After all, in today’s world local knowledge brings a competitive advantage. That’s as true for government and media as it is for any business enterprise.

Metro editor Robert Saunders can be reached at


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