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Brian Dayton: Acknowledge progress and plan for the future (The State Journal)


West Virginia is on an economic upswing that has bought much-needed good news for our state and its citizens.

From August 2018 through August 2019, West Virginia added over 16,000 jobs to its total employment. Unemployment continued to drop, and the size of the state’s workforce continues to expand. To put things in perspective, West Virginia is at its highest levels of employment since 2008.

The job increases we are witnessing are part of a four-year climb from when our state hit rock bottom in 2015.

The higher employment numbers have been accompanied by increased state revenues, providing us the opportunity to engage in critical infrastructure improvements and the ability to provide more funding to create improved education outcomes in West Virginia.

While we should all acknowledge and celebrate the success our state has been experiencing, this is also the time to prepare for the future.

Swings in the economy are inevitable, and West Virginia is not immune from the effects of a national economic downturn.

West Virginia is one of the leading energy producers in the country. An economic downturn that also affects the energy industry is especially painful in our state.

When these downturns occur, the troubles extend far past those working directly in the energy sector. They affect support services, professional services, public education, and many other jobs across West Virginia.

It is critical that we take advantage of good economic times to prepare for a potential future downturn and “soften the blow.”

Fortunately, many of the policy changes implemented in West Virginia over the past few years have given us a great start in accomplishing this important goal, but more work remains.

To that end, the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, which has members in all 55 counties who employ over half of the state’s workforce, has several member-driven suggestions.

Ensuring a work-ready workforce is one of, if not the most, important ingredients for economic growth. Members of the West Virginia Chamber tell us that they have jobs available, but in many circumstances they are struggling to find qualified applicants.

To address this, our public K-12 education system and our two- and four-year institutions must be focused on providing their students with the skills and expertise needed to enter the workforce upon graduation.

There are many successful examples of this already taking place in West Virginia, but continued growth and expansion of these efforts is needed.

Broadband internet service is essential to success in the 21st century.

Take a moment and think about how many times a day you do something that requires access to high-speed internet. Now, imagine how much of a challenge life could be without it.

We are making progress in getting West Virginia more connected, but far too many areas of this state remain without reliable and fast service.

Without it, these areas are almost automatically out of contention when seeking to attract economic investment. Bringing high-speed, reliable internet service to all corners of our state must remain a top priority.

Infrastructure development and maintenance is a priority in West Virginia. The voters recently approved major investments in our roads, and our state is ideally situated within the country.

Within a day’s drive one can travel to New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Detroit, Charlotte, North Carolina, Atlanta, St. Louis, or Indianapolis, to name just a few major cities.

Our location translates to the ability to export goods to a major chunk of the population of the United States in just one day.

If we want major businesses to consider expanding into West Virginia and take advantage of our location, we need to make sure it is easy for their employees and executives to travel to West Virginia. That means bringing more air-service options to the state.

These are just a few of the key suggestions the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce has for diversifying and modernizing West Virginia’s economy.

Taking advantage of economic upturns such as the one we have been experiencing are important to providing a cushion for more difficult times.

Our goal is simple: To bring about the opportunity for everyone in West Virginia to prosper and succeed.

Brian Dayton is a native of Moundsville, WV and is the vice president of Policy & Advocacy with the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce.

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