West Virginia won't play the victim
By: Steve Roberts
The pathway to finding a job and the buying power and security brought by steady employment is becoming less and less real for too many West Virginians.
Federal data reveals our state has the nation’s highest unemployment rate, second fastest population decline, lowest level of participation in the workforce and less job creation than all other states.
This troubling state of affairs is documented in reports compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census.
Prior to today’s situation, our state had about a 10-year stretch of reasonably good news where per capita income and jobs increased, providing revenue to counties and the state.
This period of growth allowed communities and government to pay down long term debt, build new schools and offer employment to our fellow citizens. Energy production, chiefly coal mining, led the way in improving our economy through much of this period.
Many West Virginians are surprised to learn our state’s highest wages are paid in counties that produce the most coal.
During the 10-year coal boom, the highest average annual earnings to workers came from Boone County, then our largest coal producer. As U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules take effect the picture for many West Virginia working families darkens.
Several factors, including the extraction of reasonably priced and abundant natural gas, must be considered in looking at world energy supplies and market costs.
However, it is important to know coal and all West Virginia-produced fossil fuels are under unprecedented attack from the Obama administration.
The Democratic Party platform calls for electricity production that would require 50 percent less coal use in the foreseeable future.
Meantime, China is opening a new coal powered generating plant each week.
The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, whose members employ over half of our state’s workers, is not throwing in the towel, but is adding its voice with legislative and state leaders who know we can and should do better.
Most job creation in any state comes from existing business. As West Virginia’s largest business advocacy network, the Chamber has unique abilities to hear from employers who want the opportunity to grow and prosper where they are planted.
The Chamber has developed a jobs plan for West Virginia’s future and invites readers’ thoughts and comments.
Manufacturing: First, reverse the job losses. Our manufacturing members tell us West Virginia’s tax structure impedes job creation. The No. 1 problem identified is our tax on equipment and inventory.
Manufacturers also tell us that replacing an aging workforce with competent, well trained and drug-free new workers is a must.
To read more, click here
Falling in love with West Virginia
By: Hoppy Kercheval
I have fallen back in love with West Virginia.
I had not exactly fallen out of love with my home state; it’s more that I had become complacent, even cynical, about West Virginia. That can happen when you don’t nurture a relationship.
In covering West Virginia as a talk show host, I tend to focus on the negative — political controversies, disasters, broken roads, economic woes, our growing drug problem and more. After awhile, the scales tip too far to one side and Wild and Wonderful are just words you say.
But that changed last week during an adventure “staycation” at the New River Gorge with my wife Karin and son Ben. It was a brief, but intense courtship with the Mountain State that included zip lining and whitewater rafting.
Roaring over and past the trees on a zip line at heights of up to 200 feet and speeds that reach 60-plus miles per hour was exhilarating.
The nine-mile rafting excursion down the New River is one of the greatest outdoor adventures in America. The intensity of Cxlass IV and V rapids makes the ride exciting and memorable, but it’s also safe enough for a family adventure with plenty of float time to enjoy the wonder of some of the state’s best scenery.
But what really made the experience special was the personality and professionalism of the guides. They are some of the state’s best ambassadors.
A combination of tour leaders, safety experts, naturalists and comedians, they worked hard to ensure that everyone had a memorable, safe and fun adventure.
The last time we went whitewater rafting, it was hard to find a place to stay or even a place to eat. Now you can stay on a campus that includes a variety of lodging and dining options all within walking distance of the adventure activities, which makes it even easier to experience the great outdoors without having to worry about any of the logistics.
People come from all over to have the West Virginia adventure. Our zip line outing included a church youth group from Chicago. Their chaperones told me this was a return trip for them. An extended family of eleven made the trip from Auburn, Ala., for the rafting adventure.
We are rightfully concerned about our image, but nothing helps us more than people coming here from all over the country and being treated to a once-in-a-lifetime adventure combined with a healthy dose of good-hearted West Virginia hospitality and even some corny, down-home humor.
I was completely taken in. My cynical shell was cracked by the speed of the zip line and my sour demeanor about the state was washed away by the roaring rapids of the New River.
Not only was I reintroduced to our wild and wonderful state, but I was exceedingly proud to be one of her native sons.
It’s good to be home again.
Kercheval is host of Talkline, broadcast statewide by the MetroNews Radio Network from 10 a.m. to noon weekdays. Listen locally on WCHS 580 AM.