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Endorsement: Justice will lead economic diversification

From The Herald Dispatch of Huntington:

Every election season, our state and nation seem to be “standing at a crossroads.” But for the 2016 West Virginia governor’s race, that political clich actually rings true.

The coal industry, which has been the economic engine and identity for the Mountain State for generations, has experienced a major downturn and job losses in recent years. While coal has bounced back before, many say this time is different. Not only government regulations, but market forces and technology have changed the landscape for the foreseeable future. While West Virginia has talked about “diversification” for years, much of the public and a growing number of leaders agree that now that move to a broader mix of business and industry has to happen.

More than ever, the Mountain State needs a governor who can be “marketer in chief” for that transitioning economy. Both Jim Justice and Bill Cole have the business background that will help in that job. But we feel Justice could have the greater impact. His far-ranging business interests have given him expertise in the key areas of the existing West Virginia economy and the sectors that hold some of the greatest potential.

He is a coal man, and he will work to grow coal and energy industries in an ever-changing marketplace. But as Justice told The Herald-Dispatch Editorial Board this fall, “Even when coal was going well, we were 50th in everything. We have to do more.”

As owner of The Greenbrier resort, he already has shown the ability to think big and reposition West Virginia in the eyes of the American public. The potential for tourism and vacation home growth is significant, and Justice knows the state has only scratched the surface in promoting itself as a regional and national destination.

Justice also sees great potential in agriculture for our largely rural, but centrally located, state. West Virginia ranks 42nd in farm income, with just a fraction of the revenue of neighboring states, but a focused effort could change that.

Most important, Justice understands that the state’s most important resource is its people, and our people need a world-class education to reach their full potential. His call to put “education first” may lack specifics, but it is right on target. At a time when higher education is facing some of its most difficult challenges, Justice will be an advocate for Marshall University and its critical role in lifting our Tri-State region.

Jim Justice is by no means a conventional candidate, and his lack of governmental experience may be a “leap of faith” for some voters. But we feel he is in an unique position to champion the economic and educational transformation West Virginia so desperately needs.

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