By KELSIE LeROSE
Times West Virginian
BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. — Members of West Virginia’s aerospace industry met with Gov. Jim Justice, Secretary of Commerce Woody Thrasher and State Senator Mike Romano Monday for a roundtable discussion on the industry’s recent economic impacts and opportunities for growth.
Justice said he is tired of being dead last in every category.
“We are on the cusp of turning devastation into something good,” he said.
Industry leaders from Bombardier, Pratt & Whitney, United Technologies, Lockheed Martin, Aurora, The North Central West Virginia Airport, EMS, Mid-Atlantic Aerospace Complex, KCI, FMW and West Virginia Aerospace Alliance had the opportunity to tell Justice a little about themselves and about the positive momentum for the industry in the state.
Justice also wanted to hear what things are holding the industry leaders back from being able to prosper more, and he wanted to find out what these businesses need to grow.
“I want to hear from you,” he said. “I want to find out what businesses need to grow and prosper.”
The conversations held at the roundtable aimed to move West Virginia forward, help diversify the economy, create more in-state jobs and grow West Virginia to a state of prosperity.
“West Virginia’s aerospace industry has the ability to help tug the state back to a place of fortune,” said Tom O’Neill, executive director of the West Virginia Aerospace Alliance in a press release. “By supporting industries with high likelihoods to expand, West Virginia will produce more industry jobs and thrust the state’s economy forward. Working alongside Governor Justice and his team for both growth and business retention statewide encourages the aerospace industry.”
Justice said the discussion was very informative on the opportunity in the industry.
“I made a biblical reference — here you have people that are such good servants, and they are truly turning their talents into multiple talents, and we need to reward them,” he said. “We need to get in the boat with them as a government in many different ways to try to assist and help because they are standing at the threshold saying ‘there is job opportunity everywhere’ and it is the very thing that West Virginia needs desperately.”
Justice said he knew there was potential for this industry in the area.
“The bottom line is, I surely knew this was here, but I didn’t have a clue of the opportunity that was really here,” he said. “People on the outside don’t have a clue about how great West Virginia can be in so many different ways. It is my job to change the perception, get the word out, to market our state, to do the things that will bring people and get people to give us a different look.”
During the roundtable, it was discussed that the industry has a very low turnover rate.
“West Virginians have always been great,” Justice said. “We are true craftsmen from the fact that the turnover rate is half as everywhere else in the country.”
Justice said it is important to act now.
“I am an impatient guy. I can’t look past 10 months,” he said. “We have got to move right now, and that is why I said to these people as soon as we get this budget crisis over — get a passed budget and hopefully have something that will be really, really close to what I proposed — three weeks after that, let the dust settle, and I would like to get everybody back in a room together and see what we can do to really promote these individuals.”
Steven McCoy, general manager for Bombardier, said the workforce and education are the biggest issues in industry in this area.
“I really do believe that it is not only for today, but also for the future of the industry,” he said. “We have an amazing workforce.”
Along the lines of education, another concern was the fact that today’s society pushes a four-year degree. However, many attendees agreed it is not for everyone, and it is OK to get a specialized degree.
McCoy believes the roundtable was a great opportunity.
“The fact that the governor came here, he listened to us (and) he really understood what our issues are,” he said, “I really look forward to working with him to try and address the issues that we have.”
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