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Manchin encourages West Virginians to stay in Martinsburg “town hall”


The Journal

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — How do you keep West Virginians here?

How do you staunch the flow of citizens exiting the state was the quintessential question fielded by U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin during a 37-minute live “town hall” on the senator’s Facebook page Monday night. Manchin’s office posted notices advertising the Facebook town hall podcast last week.

Other voter queries of Manchin ranged from how to stimulate west Virginia’s economy, to whether the U.S. will go to war with North Korea by week’s end, to what will happen to the current healthcare bill proposal, to where Manchin stands on the number one Facebook issue in the country: NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem.

But the majority of citizen questions invariably circled around on how to reinvigorate the state’s economy, how to produce new jobs and, by extention, how to keep West Virginians to stay here.

According to Manchin, citizens leaving is a manifestation of the state’s working problem, not the solution.

“We need you to stay,” Manchin said. “If you give up and leave, then you’re basically just giving in. And we’re going to have much more challenges.”

Asked by an emailer from Mineral Wells on how to boost West Virginia’s economy, Manchin said it’s tied to growing the state’s shrinking workforce.

“You have to have a workforce,” Manchin said. “‘It’s a sad scenario when a lifelong West Virginian, born and raised here in this state of ours, that the problem is today is we don’t have enough of us. Right now, we’re down to 50 percent of adult-age people who are working. The national average is about 62-63 percent of the adult-age working people who are working.”

Manchin attributed the state’s depleted workforce in part to a trio of residents’ disqualifications.

“Either you had been addicted — some sort of substance abuse, you have a conviction because of a crime, or you have a lack of skill sets — or a combination of those three,” Manchin said. “We have challenges right now — we’ve been hit with a little bit of everything. So we’ve got to get back to educating our workforce, keeping them clean, getting them back into the job markets.”

On the up side, Manchin said West Virginia is sitting on a huge energy supply waiting to be tapped that would also mean a rich supply of jobs.

“We now have an abundance of new energy that we’ve found with all the Marcellus Shale and the properties that comes from Marcellus, which is methane and propane,” Manchin said. “When you have that product, you have to keep it here.”

Manchin claims tapping that energy supply could create thousands of state jobs.

“We’re talking about billions and billions of investments that would come,”Manchin said. “And we’re talking thousands, we’re talking a 100,000 jobs or more. That’s a chance or opportunity that we have.”

Another ingredient to rebuilding the state’s workforce, said Manchin, is connectivity. Translation: building a rural broadband network throughout the state.

“If you want to be able to prosper and compete in the global market, you’ve got to be connected,” Manchin said.

A Parkersburg resident asked Manchin whether a balancing act can be struck with providing short term federal public assistance and requiring worforce training.

“We’ve got to help working poor to continue to work, not to basically penalize them,” Manchin said. “I believe everyone should be contributing, I believe that everyone should be working… Government shouldn’t be your provider – government should be the best provider you ever had.”

Asked about the escalating war of words between North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un and President Donald Trump, Manchin echoed former President Theodore Roosevelt’s words to “Walk softly, but carry a big stick.”

“We are only the superpower in the world left today,” Manchin said. “But in order to be a superpower, it takes more than just super military might that you know you can drop a bomb or blow anybody off the face of the earth. It takes super diplomatic skills.”

Staff writer Jim McConville can be reached at 304-263-8931, ext. 215, or Twitter@jmcconvilleJN.

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