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Opinion: Amazing things await when we invest in West Virginians

By Senator Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson

President of the West Virginia State Senate

Would you train and prepare for a marathon, run 25 of the 26.2 miles, and just quit?

Well, no. Of course you wouldn’t. That doesn’t make much sense. There would be no incentive to put in all that hard work to stop just short of the finish line and leave without the prize. All the effort you’d put in – all of the hours and miles – would be for naught.

Senate President Mitch Carmichael

What if you were a state that spent years reforming your legal climate, your regulatory structure, and your tax system to attract new, high-dollar business and industry investment, but had no steady stream of qualified men and women to fill the jobs these new opportunities had created? It would feel sort of the same, I think. The finish line was in sight, but we thought we’d done enough, so we just gave up.

But, what if there was a way – for just a small financial commitment from the state – that would guarantee we cross the finish line?

Throughout the previous several months, our state has seen a tremendous surge of positive economic development news. Voters said yes to the Roads to Prosperity Amendment and the jobs that will come with it. Several of our biggest employers, including Toyota Motor Manufacturing, have announced expansion plans. Global energy giant China Energy laid the groundwork for a historic $83.7 billion investment in West Virginia for a multitude of projects that span from power generation to chemical manufacturing.

However, there seems to be one obstacle we as a state cannot seem to overcome: Chronic unemployment. West Virginia has the lowest workforce participation rate in the United States. As a standalone statistic, that’s troubling enough, but when it’s paired with another – that West Virginia has the lowest educational attainment in the country – it’s a major problem. But if there’s one thing I know about this state and her people, if we see a problem we fix it.

That’s why this year, I am proud to help Governor Justice and other members of the Legislature tackle this problem with a real, meaningful solution. Through the outstanding efforts of the Higher Education Policy Commission, the West Virginia Department of Education, and other partners, we will present a plan that will make it possible for our citizens to finally remove the biggest financial impediment to realizing their dreams and goals of attaining a community or technical college degree, advance their education, and support their family.

This, for certain, will not simply be another “government handout.” Our plan will operate like a partnership: We invest in you, and in return, you invest in West Virginia. People who take advantage of this tremendous program will receive the benefit of a technical education that can put them on a path to a better future. Students must submit to random drug testing, achieve good grades, and maintain West Virginia residency upon graduation so they can become contributing taxpayers. With a degree in hand, our newly trained, drug-free workforce can step into any number of careers that are in demand.

By removing the financial barrier to educational opportunities, we are opening doors for an entirely new generation of students. No longer will “I don’t think I can afford college” prevent anybody from the desire to have a better career with better pay, better benefits, and better stability.

Make no mistake: West Virginia is on the rise, and major players are taking notice. We are a major contender for billions of dollars in economic development, and with that development will come jobs, jobs, jobs. If West Virginians want jobs, West Virginians must be ready to fill those jobs. Education is economic development, and we cannot afford to leave that tool out of our toolbox.

It’s my sincere hope as we roll out the details of this plan that you’ll contact your Senators and Delegates to support the idea of quality education and workforce training for all West Virginians. We’ve come too far to stop short. Let’s take home that prize, and become a shining example what positive things await when you invest in your people.

— Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, represents the Fourth Senatorial District, which includes Jackson and Mason counties, and parts of Putnam and Roane counties.

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