BECKLEY — About 43,000 Boy Scouts from more than 150 countries arrived throughout the day on Monday at the 2019 World Scout Jamboree at the Summit Bechtel Reserve in Southern West Virginia.
The event, held every four years, has not been in the United States since 1967, and this year is set to be the largest in Scouting history — and for one local business in Beckley, the Boy Scouts have caused business to boom.
American Electric Equipment Inc. has been around since 1985, and builds equipment for electrical needs such as power distribution, substations, starters and ground monitoring.
The Beckley-based business used to deal primarily with coal companies in the area. But when coal began to decline, executive administrator Janie Fansler wondered how to keep things going.
“It was very worrisome,” she said. “You never want to have to lay people off.”
Then, in 2010, the Boy Scouts of America reached out to AEEI, asking for help to run electricity, build roads and do construction on the Summit Bechtel Reserve to prepare it to serve as the future home for Scouts throughout the country and world.
Fansler, whose father started the business, said that moment was a blessing for the company, as it has started to bring in even more business than they ever thought and allowed them to branch out, providing not only electrical supplies but now custom-made metal signage and designs that are featured throughout the entirety of the site.
“Just about everything you see on-site we’ve had a hand in,” said Mark Nagye, one of the main fabricators at AEEI. “We really appreciate them letting us do it.”
Nagye said that, at first, the company was mainly focused on getting the site ready to be used. Now, though, they’re able to be creative by making custom-designed logos and signs that are used as trail guides, dining room decorations and even giant, decorative campsite markers.
Fansler said gearing up for a Jamboree is stressful. The crunch periods when products are being created quickly have been dubbed “Jamboree Stress Syndrome.” But she said, at the end of the day, it’s all worth it.
“Our business probably doubles,” she said. “It’s just everything.”
AEEI has created everything from fireplace doors to giant bear paw logos to road signage from metal using a high-powered water-jet cutting machine that was purchased two years ago just for making the Boy Scouts’ orders.
The OMAX 120X Series abrasive water jet can cut through metal with ease and create the most intricate designs for AEEI to provide the Boy Scouts. Fansler and Nagye said the machine has increased productivity tremendously.
“When we first started doing the big signs, we were pulling things from Tennessee, and with the [cost of] the freight and everything, we just said, “OK. Let’s do it,” Nagye said. “It, of course, helps us in the other industry and gives us more flexibility.”
“It does more intricate work, which we didn’t have the capability to do,” Fansler said.
Nagye said the machine has significantly cut the time it takes to fabricate designs, since hardly anything has to be done by hand. The machine takes care of it all.
“It not only helps speed production, but it gives you better-quality designs,” he said.
The machine takes up quite a lot of space, at 12-feet wide by 30-feet long, and can cut pieces of metal as big as 10 feet by 26 feet, which can take nine hours to complete.
“It’s the largest machine in our area that we’re aware of at this point,” Fansler said.
Nagye said work on what needed to be done for the World Jamboree started in December of 2018 in talks of design and making prototypes. However, once fabrication began, he said that some projects can have deadlines as quick as 48 hours.
“It’s just a lot of things. Like they’ll throw an idea at us, and literally it comes from a napkin to reality,” he said.
Fansler said AEEI is blessed to have been able to work with the Boy Scouts for so long and she appreciates all the work they give her staff.
According to an economic impact study released by West Virginia University’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research in June, the reserve produces about $28 million in the economy, supports 280 jobs and gives West Virginia almost $1 million in state and local tax revenue.
The numbers are even greater for years that the National Jamboree has been held in Southern West Virginia, generating $76 million, 530 jobs and $1.2 million in tax revenue.
For local businesses that don’t necessarily work directly with the Boy Scouts organization, like AEEI, though, there typically isn’t much of an increase in profits when there is a jamboree.
Eddie Chornobay, the owner of Nu-Source Electric Inc., a local housewares shop in Mount Hope, said he doesn’t expect to see much change around town while the Scouts are in, because they typically don’t leave the reserve.
In the past, when the National Scout Jamboree was at Summit Betchel, Chornobay said businesses in Mount Hope only saw the Scouts come in for projects, not to spend money.
“Some of the troops went in and worked on houses for people and whatever, with the service projects, but I don’t think we’ll see an increase in business,” he said.