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Scott Rotruck: Summit shows best of WV to business leaders

11/5/2017

One of my favorite events every year is the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting and Business Summit. Not only because hundreds of my colleagues and friends gather in one place for three days, but also because I love to learn.

The Business Summit is never short on insights, best practices and a crisp look ahead at what will be on West Virginia’s horizon. This year was no different. The Chamber brought in a sitting vice president for the first time and drew the most attendees in the event’s 81-year history. Despite reports that view West Virginia as bad for business, a few takeaways from the summit give me great hope for our state’s future.

1. Growth is happening and we must nurture it.

State Chamber President Steve Roberts confirmed for us that West Virginia’s jobs recovery is very real. A report from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that in June, total employment in West Virginia climbed to over 747,100 for the first time in nearly a year. Employment has increased to its highest level in over three years, and our gross domestic product growth was second in the nation for the first quarter of 2017. We should be focused on business-friendly policies that help to further this growth.

2. We should celebrate West Virginia success stories and gain inspiration from their achievements.

Heather Bresch, West Virginia native and CEO of Mylan, reminded us how the 55-year-old company that started with two Army buddies in White Sulphur Springs, today fills one in every 13 prescriptions in the United States and strives to provide the world’s 7 billion people with access to high quality medicine.

Mylan has a global workforce of approximately 35,000 — 3,500 of whom are in Morgantown, where the company produces more than 20 billion tablets and capsules annually.

I knew Mylan was big business for West Virginia, but I didn’t realize just how big the company’s impact was on the state, across the U.S. and around the world. In fact, the company markets more than 7,500 products in more than 165 countries, selling 635 products in the U.S. at an average selling price of just 25 cents per dose.

Through its leadership in generic medicines, Mylan’s products reduced drug spending in the U.S last year by approximately $25 billion and reduced drug spending in West Virginia by approximately $240 million. Further, Mylan has remained committed to U.S. manufacturing, making nearly 80 percent of the medicine it sells in the U.S. right in Morgantown.

Mylan’s medicines not only treat some of the country’s most pressing diseases — including cancer, heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s — their reach extends well beyond this state or our country. For instance, half of those being treated for HIV/AIDS in the developing world benefit from a Mylan product.

Mylan’s journey as an underdog in its industry represents the very best of West Virginia’s work ethic, passion, and perseverance, and we should celebrate and take pride in Mylan’s success as our own.

3. We cannot cut our way to prosperity. Investing in our future is important.

West Virginia Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher, who never shies away from hard truths for how to land more business, had a great strategic insight to share during the Business Summit.

West Virginia is among the 23 states that Toyota and Mazda are considering for a $1.6 billion manufacturing plant. He stressed that the state must be willing to invest funds to help incentivize companies to come to West Virginia. It may take $100 million to net the Toyota-Mazda plant, but the return would dwarf that number.

4. As West Virginians, we should help rebrand our state and encourage change.

West Virginia University President Gordon Gee offered solutions from a new report the university privately commissioned with Marshall University and the West Virginia Department of Commerce. They learned the average vacationing family stays four days in one location and spends $500 there; in West Virginia, tourists stay just two days and spend only $125.

Clearly, Wild, Wonderful, West Virginia has plenty of room to grow its tourism industry.

President Gee, always the consummate leader by example, said the state must stand out from the competition — he suggested focusing downstream of oil and natural gas production, where value-added plastics serve as an example of how West Virginia’s natural resources, technical sophistication and experience are great strengths.

He suggested cybersecurity, cloud service and data centers as well as life sciences and automotive assembly as sectors that promise growth.

He also hit the nail on the head when he stressed to the crowd that the state must not fear change.

The Business Summit, which takes place during the back-to-school buzz each year, gives the entire state the opportunity to start fresh with new perspectives.

All of us who attended must now forge ahead with the ideas and solutions shared during the event to capitalize on our strengths to blaze a trail of success. It will take each of us pulling the rope together to attain the excellence we know the Mountain State can attain.

Scott Rotruck is the director of Energy & Transportation Services for Spilman Thomas & Battle, former vice chairman of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, former chairman of the Morgantown Area Chamber of Commerce and former leader of several statewide economic development organizations.

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