By September 1, 2017 Read More →

WV Commerce Secretary calls for more state investment in business

By MAX GARLAND

Charleston Gazette-Mail

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va.  — Even in the face of budget issues, West Virginia must find a way to bring in new business through state loans and committing to economic diversification, West Virginia Department of Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher said Thursday.

West Virginia Department of Commerce Secretary speaks Thursday at the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce’s 81st annual Meeting & Business Summit, held at The Greenbrier resort. Thrasher called for the state to be willing to spend for businesses, saying that it could help West Virginia land the announced Toyota and Mazda plant.
(Gazette-Mail photo by Max Garland)

“We have to fundamentally change the way we do business, and in order to do those things, we have to have a seat at the table we’ve never had before,” Thrasher said in a speech at the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce’s 81st annual Meeting and Business Summit, held at The Greenbrier resort. “But just having a seat is not adequate. We have to have funds to incentivize companies to come here.”

A willingness to spend for prospective businesses could help West Virginia secure Toyota and Mazda’s planned $1.6 billion manufacturing plant, according to Thrasher. He said West Virginia is on the automotive companies’ list of 23 states they are considering locating the plant at. Toyota is already established in the Mountain State, with a manufacturing plant in Putnam County.

“My guess is that project will have a $100 million price tag,” Thrasher said of the proposed Toyota-Mazda plant. “If someone gets it for that, it will be the best damn investment because what they’re going to get out of it is going to blow that figure away.”

Thrasher used manufacturing company ROXUL’s plans to build a $150 million plant in Jefferson County as an example of state spending furthering economic development. According to Thrasher, Department of Commerce loans totaling $14 million for the site’s water and sewer infrastructure helped seal the deal.

Still, Thrasher acknowledged West Virginia still is “a long way out of the woods” in terms of curing its budget woes and that diversifying economically is necessary for the state to see more business opportunities.

Thrasher mentioned timber and tourism as industries with promising prospects in the state, but also backed the proposed Appalachian Storage Hub for natural gas, which is being pushed by U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va. He cited a recent study by the West Virginia University Energy Institute that said of the five sites identified as plausible hub locations, three are in West Virginia. Various energy companies and the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association contributed funding for the study.

Thrasher also touted the upcoming launch of EXCEL WV, a Department of Commerce program where companies “loan” their executives to the department to address economic issues and job creation. The program is slated to begin later this year, with executives working with the department in 6- to 12-month periods. Executives can participate on a full- or part-time basis.

“We need to begin to develop a pool of rich, talented individuals that understand how to do business,” he said. “I believe through this program you have the opportunity for West Virginia business to shape the economic future of the state of West Virginia.”

Reach Max Garland at max.garland@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-4886 or follow @MaxGarlandTypes on Twitter.

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