October 17, 2020 - The West Virginia Coal Hall of Fame, a joint initiative between the West Virginia Coal Mining Institute and the West Virginia Coal Association and housed at the WVU Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources in Morgantown, has announced the induction of its newest class of honorees. They include Jim Justice, Governor of the State of West Virginia; Chris Cline, founder of Foresight Energy (posthumously); Ralph Ballard, founder of the Investment Management Group, LLC; and, Chris Hamilton, Senior Vice President of the West Virginia Coal Association.
This is the 23rd class of inductees for the West Virginia Coal Hall of Fame, which began in 1998. Governor Justice is only the third father-son combination to be honored. His father, James C. Justice, Sr., was inducted in the inaugural class of 1998.
Bill Raney, President of the WV Coal Association, said, “These West Virginians, pillars of the mining industry and communities throughout the state, are absolutely deserving of this honor. They are all trailblazers that have had an incredibly positive impact on the coal industry and the State of West Virginia.”
Vlad Kecojevic, President of the WV Coal Mining Institute, said, “These four individuals have tirelessly served the State of West Virginia and their contributions to the modern coal mining industry have been recognized, not only on a national, but also an international level. Their hard work and dedication for the continuous improvement of the coal mining industry have been exemplary and this induction to the WV Coal Hall of Fame is more than deserving.”
Because of the restrictions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic the official induction ceremony has been postponed until a later date.
About the Honorees
Governor Jim Justice
Prodigious job creator, public servant, and humanitarian are just a few words to describe Jim Justice, West Virginia’s current governor.
Before becoming Governor, and like his father, Jim has a visionary grasp for business. He grew his family’s mining company, Bluestone Coal, into one of the most productive coal operations in the region. Throughout his mining career, he has employed hundreds of West Virginia coal miners who have mined millions of tons of West Virginia coal.
Also, prior to becoming Governor, in addition to his coal mining accomplishments Jim operated over 100 businesses, employing thousands of workers. Those companies are today the largest farming entity east of the Mississippi River and he rescued the internationally acclaimed Greenbrier Resort from bankruptcy and has significantly enhanced its workforce, amenities, and operations.
Elected as Governor of the State of West Virginia in 2016, Jim used his business prowess to quickly turn an inherited budget deficit of half a billion dollars into a significant budget surplus in just his first year. As Governor, he has worked tirelessly to bring opportunity to the state by creating jobs, fixing roads, addressing substance abuse, and more recently, deftly and compassionately leading the state through the global pandemic.
His greatest passion is giving back to the children of West Virginia and those in need. Throughout his life, Jim and his companies have donated millions of dollars to organizations helping youth across the region, he’s coached the Greenbrier East High School girls and boys basketball teams to more than 1,000 wins, and chaired the Beckley Little League and grew it to more than 80 teams.
His service to the state’s mining industry are legion, his accomplishments humanitarian, and his philanthropic legacy will be felt for generations. To say Jim Justice thinks big is the ultimate understatement. He is a man that has made and continues to make an incomparable impact in everything he does.
Chris Cline is an international legend in the world of business and mining. Born in McDowell County and raised near Beckley, Cline learned the coal industry from the “underground” up. He started working in the mines at the age of 15 and never looked back. From the early days of Pioneer Fuels to when Cline founded Foresight Energy, he was an innovative businessman and always ahead of his time in anticipating the coal markets.
His coal enterprises took him from Appalachia to Illinois to Canada. He always recognized that his employees were his greatest asset and incorporated advanced safety protocols and equipment into his operations, while compensating his workforce fairly and in unique ways. At Foresight, his four mine complexes were the most productive underground operations in the nation.
For all his success, Cline was most passionate about giving back to his home state and the people and communities that helped him. Through the Cline Family Foundation, Chris has made a profound impact contributing to organizations that make life better for children, while also supporting a host of academic institutions, like WVU and Marshall, among others, and providing grants and scholarships to those in need.
His legacy is a tremendous addition to the Coal Hall of Fame.
Chris Hamilton has worked in the mining industry for nearly 50 years, receiving his start in 1971 as an underground miner with the Valley Camp Coal Company in northern West Virginia. Over his illustrious career, he has served as a mine section foreman/fire-boss, a certified MSHA training instructor, a private mine training consultant, and Deputy Director of the West Virginia Department of Mines. In 1982, Hamilton joined the West Virginia Coal Association (WVCA) as the Director of Health & Safety and quickly rose to Senior Vice President, responsible for state and federal regulatory, legislative, and public policy.
During his tenure with WVCA, Chris has served under gubernatorial appointment on many mine safety boards and commissions and has served as Co-Chairman of the WV Coal Forum. Since 2014, Hamilton has also served as chairman of the West Virginia Business and Industry Council (WV-BIC), which under his leadership, has become a dynamic and unified voice of business before the state Legislature credited with transforming the WV legislature into a more business friendly body.
Over the past 40 years, Hamilton has been instrumental in navigating every regulatory change and legislative program impacting the competitiveness and long-term viability of the coal industry.
Ralph Ballard, born and raised in White Sulphur Springs, is a true mining industry expert and entrepreneur. His long career is as extensive as it is profound. Following graduation from WVU with a degree in Engineering, he began his career in the coal industry working for Peabody Coal. He served as Vice President of Operations at Burco, LLC, and then set off on his own, starting multiple companies, to include: The Asset Management Group, Red Wine Mining Venture, and The Investment Management Group. The firms were involved across the full spectrum of mining operations, from developing greenfield mines and operating prep plants to conducting world-class reclamation across a variety of sites.
Ralph’s entrepreneurial spirit did not stop at the mine gate. He founded Millennium Group Builders, a company involved in the acquisition and development of residential properties in both Kanawha and Greenbrier Counties. The company has built more than 80 homes and continues to operate today.
Ralph has been a longtime, dedicated member of the West Virginia Coal Association’s Board of Directors and continues to assist and serve his community in innumerable ways.