By JANET METZNER
The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register
CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice confirmed Thursday he will no longer try to tax advertising, while business leaders from around West Virginia continue presenting their case for reforms they believe will help grow the economy.
“You do have the voice of the people,” Justice said in Charleston, Thursday during the West Virginia Press Association’s annual Legislative Breakfast, that also included legislators. “To lay a sales tax on you is probably not appropriate.”
“I want to leave that as it is,” Justice added, referring to advertising being exempted from sales tax.
As part of his $4.8 billion proposed budget presented Feb. 8, Justice included about $450 million worth of tax increases. The revenue that would have been generated from taxing advertising wasn’t enough to impact his proposal, Justice said Thursday.
The press association, as well as the West Virginia Broadcasters Association, have issued statements against the tax, which they said would harm economic impact generated from advertising revenue.
“A tax on advertising would reduce the amount of local news and entertainment available to the public,” the broadcasters group said, noting that advertising is not taxed in any other state.
Meanwhile, state Secretary of Commerce Woody Thrasher said the Justice administration is very interested in helping existing West Virginia businesses as much as possible, but said officials realize growth is necessary.
“Certainly, we want to do everything we can for our existing, home-grown businesses,” Thrasher said Thursday. “But we need to bring in companies from outside to come in. That, hopefully, will generate a more robust economy, which in turn creates that critical mass for entrepreneurial spirit to develop.”
Thrasher said he’s traveled throughout the state for years and has seen that each community is in worse condition than it was when he began his own businesses decades ago.
The state needs an aggressive stimulus program that includes a stable economy as well as incentives to attract businesses, he said.
Paul Lauttamus, president of Weirton-based Lauttamus Communications & Security, also spoke during the breakfast. His business specializes in building networks for customers in 32 states, and throughout the world.
Lauttamus attributes his company’s success and growth to his father, who is its founder, as well as “looking for what’s hot and what’s sexy.”
That includes the financial technology, alarm industry, the Internet, drones, and ideas such as autonomous tractors that run farms.
He said he looks for distressed businesses to acquire, or those businesses run by those who want to retire. “Those are huge opportunities for each of you to grow your business, and consolidate the industry to keep those employees here in West Virginia,” he said.
Thrasher, who is president of The Thrasher Group that employs 400, and managing partner of White Oaks Business Park in Bridgeport, said it’s rare that an entrepreneurial spirit affects an entire West Virginia community significantly. That’s why attracting outside businesses is so vital to the economy.
“If you’re honest, and you look across this state, you’ve got Morgantown which is a robust, entrepreneurial community, but … you can’t find it,” at such an equal rate, elsewhere in the state
Some examples of out-of-state companies in West Virginia who create jobs in the state, helping the economy, include Bombardier, a company based in Canada, that’s looking to expand and hire 300-600 mechanics at its West Virginia Air Center in Bridgeport, Thrasher said.
And there are 3,900 West Virginians working for companies based in Japan, he said.
“Our trade mission to Japan is significant,” he said.
Tourism is also important to the state, he said, while noting some other states that have stopped promoting themselves have experienced economic decline.
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