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Steve Roberts: State Chamber's vision for the 2018 Legislature


Our state has made tremendous progress in recent years, and the West Virginia Legislature is to be recognized and commended for its commitment to building a business climate dedicated to job growth.

The results are showing:

West Virginia’s GDP growth was second in the nation for the first quarter of 2017.

Coal production has increased 24 percent in the past year.

Natural gas production is at an all-time high.

Construction employment is up 900 jobs.

Health care has added 3,400 positions.

The past few months have also seen several major economic development announcements around our state. These announcements signal that employers realize West Virginia has turned the corner and is committed to enacting policies that foster job creation and promote economic development.

But more must be done.

The West Virginia Chamber has announced its vision for the 2018 Legislature. This vision encourages action on important items such as education and the talent pipeline, a legal system that fairly serves all, modernization of our tax structure, regulatory reform for the oil and gas industry, enhanced connectivity, protecting our state’s image and a comprehensive plan to address the opioid addiction crisis that is plaguing our state.

This vision is about our state’s future. Our school-children comprise the talent pipeline that will soon lead our state. We must do more to ensure they are being prepared for the this task.

According to U.S. News & World Report, West Virginia’s best public high school is 1,492 among all ranked high schools in the country.

We must take a different approach with education, one that cuts through the bureaucratic red tape and lets teachers do what they do best: teach. We must also recognize that students are individuals and have different needs and aspirations. Some will choose to seek career and technical training instead of college, and we must ensure we are fully preparing those students for life after graduation.

For those choosing the career and technical training path, our state’s energy and manufacturing sectors offer lucrative careers. Natural gas production is at an all-time high in West Virginia and has continued to grow year after year. With the recent approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission of both the Mountain Valley Pipeline and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline projects, all projections are that this important sector of the economy will continue to grow.

Manufacturers also tend to have a high demand for natural gas. After years of witnessing a slow decline in West Virginia manufacturing jobs, there appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel. Many of the economic development announcements I mentioned earlier will create jobs in this sector. Manufacturing jobs pay well and offer good benefits, and they can greatly enhance the quality of life of the community in which they are located.

If we are to see continued manufacturing announcements, however, we must be willing to make hard decisions with our tax structure. West Virginia is one of only seven states that taxes tangible business personal property, such as equipment and inventory.

For manufacturers looking to expand or relocate, this unique tax is a major consideration they must undertake. Our Legislature must consider tax reform that would reduce or eliminate this onerous tax, while also ensuring that our county governments, many of which depend on it, are not left with uncorrectable budget gaps.

Lastly, we must develop a comprehensive plan to adequately respond to our state’s drug crisis. All of us know somebody, whether it be a friend or a loved one, who has suffered from or suffers from addiction.

We must not only seek solutions to help break the cycle of addiction but also find ways to help individuals re-enter the job market once they have recovered and are no longer using. Employers understand the dire consequences of this epidemic, and are ready and eager to do whatever is needed to help find a solution to this problem.

Action on these issues is needed to demonstrate West Virginia is serious about fostering job creation and improving the state’s economy. The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce encourages our state’s legislators to be bold during the upcoming session. Their difficult votes and actions are already making a difference. Now, we must keep up the momentum.

Steve Roberts is president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce.
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