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Lawmakers hear recommendations from WV Forward project

By ANDREA LANNOM

The Register-Herald

CHARLESTON, W.Va.  – West Virginia is at a crossroads with its economic challenges, according to an associate vice president at West Virginia University, who said, “It’s time to see enthusiasm to turn the page and write the next chapter.”

Rochelle Goodwin, senior associate vice president for academic public strategy at West Virginia University, and Josh Jarrell, deputy Secretary of Commerce, presented a broad view on the state’s economy along with ways to showcase West Virginia’s positives.

Both pointed to summary findings in West Virginia Forward, a report that identified possible short and longterm solutions for the state’s economy. The study was conducted by McKinsey and CO., and was funded through private contributions and foundations.

Marshall President Jerome Gilbert, WVU President Gordon Gee and state Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher released summary findings from the West Virginia Forward project upon its publication in September.

The purpose of the study is to help understand the state’s strengths and opportunities. It also will help identify initiatives that will provide collaboration and achieve both short term and longterm goals.

The study recommended maintaining current industries including auto manufacturing, metals manufacturing and building projects. Other target areas included carbon fiber, reinforced plastics, fine chemicals and cyber security.

The study also focused on tourism opportunities for West Virginia. Goodwin said the state could expand adventure tourism options in the south, look at attracting second home buyers in the eastern panhandle and attracting higher income retirees in the northern part of the state.

Goodwin said West Virginia has many value propositions including a loyal workforce with employee turnover rates at 8.8 percent, high home ownership at 74.2 percent and a low cost of living compared to other states. She also mentioned the stat that West Virginia ranks 18th in the nation for its business tax climate.

“These are the things we tell to showcase why West Virginia is a great place for these metrics.”

Goodwin also mentioned areas of improvement. One of the areas involved workforce participation.

West Virginia is dead last  – a position it has maintained without interruption since 1976 – with 53 percent of the state’s adult population either working or looking for work.

Goodwin said the state also has room for improvement for women in the workforce and people with disabilities in the workforce, saying those also rank low.

She said the state also needs to look at expanding access to broadband.

Topography also is a challenge for the state. Goodwin said the state does not have an abundance of large industrial sites and needs to look at ways to improve services to businesses that want quick and pre-approved sites.

Jarrell said the office is working to come up with legislative ideas with the goal of moving the economy forward. The first one, he said, is to increase resources for the development office, tourism and Division of Natural Resources.

“These areas are underfunded,” he said. “With an increase, we could increase the products we are able to offer, increase our ability to market and close deals.”

He said the state also needs a site certification program to work with local communities to identify properties ready for immediate development.

He also mentioned eliminating the machinery and inventory tax on businesses.

“We need to do this in a thoughtful manner,” he said. “We can lower taxes but it doesn’t do any good if you don’t have a pipeline of talent.”

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