Plenty can be done with our economy

An editorial from The Register-Herald 

BECKLEY, W.Va. — As we roll inexorably towards the general election Nov. 8, perhaps the more important votes we cast will be at the state and local levels for everything from governor to a supervisor on the county board.

And, yes, it is all about the economy. We’re not stupid.

Our elected officials will be tasked with figuring out how they – and government – can wax the runners and oil the gears to our economy while trying to balance a budget that is annually out of whack.

As we all know, the coal industry has fallen hard, leaving a lot of miners out of work and their families scraping to get by.

And as those paychecks are diminished or disappear, discretionary income evaporates and the economy takes a hit.

No economist believes that coal is going to disappear entirely from the equation, thankfully. But the experts also seriously doubt that coal will ever recapture its economic dominance despite what politicians say on the campaign stump.

And that leaves us with one of two options: do nothing and hope against reality that coal does return to its former glory or start laying down plans, loosening restrictions and providing incentives to diversify our economy – something almost all economists will tell you West Virginia should have done a long time ago.

Bottom line: Who is willing to invest in West Virginia? And what risks are our elected officials prepared to take? Lord knows there’s potential in these hills.

We think agriculture – among other industries – holds particular promise.

Here are just two ideas:

● Jim Justice, the Democratic candidate for governor, thinks there is gold to be mined in the timber industry if we could only find someone to see the wisdom of building a furniture-making factory here.

Makes perfect sense, when you think about it. Natural resources are right outside the back door, it is abundant and renewable, and major population centers are about a half-day’s drive.

Would state and local officials be willing to cut such an industrialist a tax deal?

Will the next governor also need to be our marketer-in-chief as Justice likes to call himself?

● Who in the legislature can see the promise of industrial hemp? Hemp, of course, is a cousin of marijuana but without the potent effects of THC. Hemp is grown for its fiber and oilseed. Based on most recent production and price averages, the estimated value of hemp per acre is $21,000 from seeds and $12,500 from stalks.

Yes, it could be a cash crop for our state, one that would produce jobs and give our agricultural bounty a kick-start.

Laws at the state level will have to be changed to accommodate hemp farming – as will cooperation with the Drug Enforcement Administration. That seems easy enough to us if only the legislature and our congressional delegation would set it as a priority.

Our point is this: There are opportunities to build industries and create jobs in our state, but it’s going to take laser-like focus and initiative on the part of our elected officials, and an ability to sell our state to deep-pocketed interests.

If our politicians are talking about anything other than fixing the economy and creating jobs during this final push towards election day, then they are just wasting our time – and losing our support.

So, yes, Nov. 8 matters.

See more from The Register-Herald.

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