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Steve Roberts: Working together we can move West Virginia to its brightest future (The State Journal)

1/14/2019

West Virginia has turned the corner on the road leading to a brighter future. However, the journey continues and will take everyone working together to identify and remove obstacles that block any path leading to positive change for all West Virginians.

As Henry Ford said, “If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.”

Born more than 150 years ago, Ford knew how to achieve success and his words resonate today. The quote discerns what is needed to move our state ahead in jobs, education and quality of life. This journey needs the support of everyone, especially that of the West Virginia Legislature. The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce is ready to face the task and believes 2019 is the year to make change happen.

Surveys of West Virginians indicate residents want an improved economy that supports a better way of life. During the last year, the Chamber engaged with various state, national and international business leaders to identify what is necessary to further revise the state’s narrative. Specific changes are needed this legislative year. Education, energy, manufacturing, broadband, tourism and growth in small businesses top the list of urgent matters.

We know education is the key to success in the 21st century. We could not agree more with the opinion of World Bank’s Harry Patrinos, an economist and expert in understanding the link between education and economy. Mr. Patrinos explains education is truly one of the most powerful instruments for reducing poverty and inequality. It sets the foundation for sustained economic growth. Because of this, we must do more to help our almost 270,000 students prepare. We must support our teachers and ensure they have the classroom tools to meet the needs of their students. Nothing will affect the state’s future as much as enhancing the quality of our school system, and it begins by setting the bar of expectation higher and recognizing all children can learn — no matter where they live.

Energy plays a major role in our economy. Activity around natural gas and coal account for nearly one quarter of our state’s economic base by creating jobs and tax revenue. West Virginia must encourage the production and use of natural resources. Our state should be proud of our energy-producing heritage, and examine the opportunities available from these abundant resources. By doing this, changes can be made to capitalize on the possibilities to grow the industry and place West Virginia permanently on the map as the energy producing state.

Manufacturing also is part of our rich history and must be seen as a priority. Manufacturing provides many of our best jobs, and contributes substantially to the tax base. It is a natural fit in an economic mix and can be expandable and sustainable. States throughout America compete earnestly for manufacturing jobs. Manufacturers need reasonable and fair tax and regulatory policies, accessible energy supply, a transportation network and a work-ready workforce. Our state must pay attention to these absolutes if we wish to attract and keep these employers.

Looking toward the future and identifying ways to attract new business to the Mountain State, broadband and the information superhighway must be included on our “to-do” list. The technology revolution is here. Cell service and high-speed internet are needed critically throughout our hills and valleys. To miss this opportunity would spell disaster for future generations of West Virginians. Assuring access to high-speed, consistently available, affordable broadband will support forward movement.

The beauty of our state and the importance of small business are undeniable. Our state must build tourism and support small-business initiatives. Both add greatly to the economic base and well-being.

Each of these issues must be addressed to build the quality of life our residents deserve — and desire; it is doable and should begin now.

Steve Roberts is the president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, the state’s largest business association. The chamber represents more than half of the state’s workforce. To learn more about the organization, its mission and the Business Summit, visit www.wvchamber.com.

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