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Morgantown Area Chamber of Commerce holds breakfast for WV legislators

By CONOR GRIFFITH

The Exponent Telegram

MORGANTOWN, W.Va.  — Workforce education and pay, along with taxes and the opioid crisis, were among the topics brought up during the Morgantown Area Chamber of Commerce’s breakfast with state legislators Wednesday morning.

Dels. Rodney Pyles, John Williams, Dave Pethtel and Joe Statler, along with state Sen. Bob Beach, attended the breakfast to engage with business and community leaders of Monongalia County.

Statler said West Virginia is on the cusp of economic greatness, between the natural gas industry and passage of the road bond amendment. However, he noted that the workforce to support these things isn’t ready because of the ongoing opioid crisis.

Statler expressed confidence that changing economic tides will provide hope that can turn things around since many people turned to drugs out of despair, especially with the declining coal industry.

“People look to the bleak things, and they look for relief wherever they can find it,” he noted.

Statler also proposed an emphasis on career training and community colleges since they are able to train the workers needed for the coming jobs faster than four-year universities are.

Williams said another problem is overcrowding in state jails due to taking a harsher approach for drug offenders, a problem made worse by the shortage of guards caused by high turnover and annual pay of $21,000. One jail, he said, only had 15 guards to manage 535 inmates.

“We can’t keep overcrowding the jails when guards are more likely to get a shiv in the back than a pay raise,” he said.

All the legislators in attendance said they support second chance legislation that would wipe the slate clean for non-violent drug offenders so they can get back to work.

Another issue legislators said they are figuring out is what to do with West Virginia’s business inventory tax. Eldon Callen, president of the Chamber, said West Virginia is one of the few states in the region with this tax, which, he said, is unfair to businesses.

Beach said transferring control of this tax to the counties is an option so they can decide how best to make it more efficient or scrap it all together, if they desire.

Statler said getting rid of the tax would bring in more businesses, but at the same time the tax helps county budgets, and if the tax were eliminated, outright, some counties would weather it better than others. He advised against raising property taxes to compensate, since West Virginia has some of the lowest in the region.

Ideas for economic development in the area were also pitched.

Jason Donahue, of Feoh Realty, suggested the Legislature create the Mountain Trail Network. This, he said, would produce a tourist attraction in mountain biking using 1,000 acres near the University Town Centre that are otherwise unusable. Donahue said the concept is similar to Hatfield-McCoy Trails, except there would be easy access to hospitality services.

“It’s a very simple idea that can generate substantial revenue we all need and isn’t controversial,” he said, noting there are about 12-15 million people within a three-hour drive of the trail if it were to become a reality.

Callen said not all of the legislators out of Mon County could attend due to a variety of reasons, including the 110th anniversary of the Monongah mining disaster that killed hundreds of miners in 1907.

Callen nonetheless said he was pleased with the turnout. With representatives for planning organizations, local governments, banks, energy and other businesses he said such a diverse crowd will help the legislators make more informed decisions which in turn will help the community.

“I was very, very pleased with the turnout and the wide spectrum of people with us today,” Callen said.

Staff writer Conor Griffith can be reached by at 304-395-3168 or by email at [email protected]

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