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Mining the future of W.Va.


The Journal

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. — West Virginia University President Gordon Gee said he’s willing to listen if you have a good idea for developing the state’s economy.

Dr. Gordon Gee

In what has become an annual summer rite for Gee, the university head is making stops throughout the state to cull raw economic development idea material from local officials, which he plans to then coalesce into a state economic development to take before state and national legislators.

On Wednesday, Gee met a group of 18 local officials and business leaders in Berkeley Springs, representing the Eastern Panhandle stop of his tour of West Virginia.

In his roughly50-minute presentation which included an informal give-and-take discussion, Gee touched upon a wide list of untapped resources in the state that could provide the raw material for growing the mountain state’s economy and providing a reason for more its young residents to stay here.

“I want to hear what you think we ought to be doing working with the state, how we ca n be better engaged in what we need to be doing together to grow the state,” Gee said. “We need to create ideas that allow those of you who are making policy — and that’s everyone in this room — to see if these are good ideas or bad ideas. At least ideas have been generated.”

At the end of his statewide think tank tour, Gee said he’ll sift through their input to etch out an economic development wish list which will then present to the state Legislature.

“My hope is that by the end of this summer that we will have a series of ideas and recommendations that we can then take to the leadership in the House and the Senate and say, ‘Look, at least consider adopting them.’”

Gee said a final report based on his statewide tour will be available at the end of August.

According to Gee, one of the state’s biggest economic priorities is hammering out plan to retain its most valuable natural resource — young people.

“The future of our state is going to be determined on our young people, and too many of them have already left,” Gee said. “We’ve imported oil, gas, timber, coal and we’ve imported young people. We’ve got to stop. We just have to keep young people here.”

Gee said West Virginia should look to develop cutting edge technology, such as cybersecurity.

“For one, we have West Virginia University with one of the most forward leading programs in terms of cybersecurity, we have one of the largest facilities for the FBI in Fairmont and we are in the Eastern Time Zone, but we’re far enough away from Washington, D.C. and other places to actually have a secure apparatus,”Gee said.

Gee said WVU officials are talking with the Department of Defense about providing resources for their cybersecurity program.

“The defense industry is the one that’s investing most heavily in cybersecurity, so we’re working very closely with the Defense Department right now to have them to develop significant capacity and put it here in West Virginia,” Gee said.

Given West Virginia’s unique economic profile, Gee said the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation might want to consider the state as a candidate for its philanthropic economic development project.

“The Gates Foundation should be investing boatloads of money in West Virginia,”Gee said. “Because we have every problem in rural America, we have every problem in urban America — and we are strong enough to make the solutions.”

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