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West Virginia’s 2010 legislative preview

By Staff | Jan 26, 2010

As the legislative session begins, media emphasis often stresses those broad issues that apply to most state demographics. Since West Virginia has a large percentage of older citizens, we wanted to ask Gov. Joe Manchin about opportunities for the younger, creative class and new or recent university graduates.

 Through his spokesperson, Matt Turner, Manchin said 2010 brings an optimistic and opportunistic outlook, despite growing issues, such as stock market losses impacting state retirement funds and more of the recession trickling down to the Mountain State.  

“Our changes have received the attention of Wall Street and now, even our former cynics in the national media are taking notice. Forbes magazine cited the Huntington and Charleston metro areas as having very competitive costs of doing business and ranked them in the top 25 percent on its list of “Best Places for Business and Careers in 2009,” among other accolades, Turner said.  

Graffiti: The Governor would like those receiving Promise Scholarships to stay and work in the state. What types of economic development does the governor envision to help university grads stay in the state? Does the state have any incentives like Sen. Rockefeller mentioned for med students who work in underserved areas?

 Turner: We continue to work hard to improve West Virginia’s business climate and attract employers who are looking for our college graduates to meet their needs and grow in the Mountain State. Among other improvements since 2005, last year we passed the Aircraft Valuation Tax Credit and the High-Technology Business Property Valuation Act, which are helping to create 21st century jobs that pay well and help to diversify our economy, and create more opportunities for recent graduates. 

 The traditional heavy industries are still a staple of our economy and jobs, but as those industries face overseas competition, we’re identifying additional markets in which West Virginia can succeed. We’ve also seen growth in the forensics and biometrics, technology and health care fields, so there are additional opportunities there.  

You’ll find lots of information about growing industries and what we’re doing to create more opportunities for West Virginians, in addition to the best reasons for staying in West Virginia and locating a business here.

  NOTE: According to http://wvcommerce.org/business/whywestvirginia/default.aspx, the state encourages business owners to consider the world markets for exporting their products. Research shows that companies who export enjoy higher growth and employee retention than those that focus solely on the domestic market. Any business owner who is not looking at the world as a potential customer is missing opportunities being taken by the competition on a daily basis. Even if your business is doing well in domestic sales, it makes sense to diversify into global markets as a hedge against future changes. 

Exports have grown 42 percent in 2008 (above the 12 percent national average).

The state’s top exports are: coal, plastic, machinery, chemicals and aluminum. Although the top exports represent the “staples,” small business has opportunities to meet with state officials to determine readiness for export and, eventually, with those from other nations who may be interested in a product or service.

Some international success stories can be found at: http://www.wvcommerce.org/business/successstories/default.aspx.

Graffiti: Some college grads whether from ‘in state’ or ‘out of state’ institutions may have boomeranged back to their parents and/or hometowns in West Virginia due to the nationwide recession. Are there programs which these graduates could take advantage of, such as at community colleges or grad schools?

Turner: Community and technical colleges have seen increasing growth in West Virginia. Allied Health programs are in critical demand. As examples of the emergence of CTC growth:   

— Over 90 new technical programs leading to skill sets, certificates and associate degrees have been implemented over the past three years by our community and technical colleges.

— This past fall our community and technical college enrollment increased over 16 percent.

— Enrollment in allied health programs, which are high-demand occupations critically needed in West Virginia, increased almost 25 percent the past three years.

— Adult student enrollment increased over 25 percent, many of which are dislocated workers returning to community colleges to upgrade their skills and prepare to return to work.

(Editor’s Note: For instance, the community colleges have: Fast Track Jobs training programs providing quick, convenient training in job areas current in demand in the Mountain State. Free information and registration sessions will be held at 1 p.m. on the first Thursday of every month at community and technical colleges across the state. Visit: http://www.wvctcs.org.)

Brian Noland, chancellor of the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, explained that the state has an “array of graduate school opportunities. Studies in STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — are on the rise, and those areas are crucial as West Virginia’s economy becomes more diversified.”

Entrepreneurships in those fields are part of the Bucks for Brains program.

“Our goal is to turn cutting-edge work at our universities into business spin-offs, new patents and more opportunities for a competitive and highly-skilled workforce.”

Noland concluded, “Providing exciting educational opportunities at our universities while solidifying new employment opportunities is exactly the right recipe to encourage young people to learn in West Virginia and to stay here.”

Students looking to enter graduate school or considering emerging higher education fields can visit: http://wvhepcnew.wvnet.edu.

Turner noted the following positive statistics concerning West Virginia’s colleges and universities:

— West Virginia is now ranked 18th in the nation in state-sponsored research and development expenditures — a 19-spot leap from fiscal year 2006; 

— Student enrollment is higher than it’s ever been before — with more than 93,000 students attending our public institutions;

— Graduation rates are up, as are the numbers of doctorate and bachelor degrees;

— The number of faculty at our institutions is on the rise, and we’re attracting world-class scientific researchers to West Virginia;

— And the number of students majoring in science, technology, engineering and mathematics — our crucial “STEM” fields — has steadily increased since 2004.

Graffiti: Young adults and struggling college attendees and recent graduates often have addictive temptations thrust in their laps. Despite immediate economic gratification, how would you encourage young adults to NOT experiment with illegal drugs?

Turner: On the social side, the governor often talks about how drug abuse and illegal drugs have affected every one of us — even if not directly. We all know someone who’s struggled with the problem, be it a family member or friend. That said, they only have to look at how the effects are devastating, ruining lives, careers, families, and children. Talk with someone who is recovering and see how the long-term effects far outweigh any short-term gratification. 

On the criminal side, we have really strengthened efforts to crack down on the illegal drug trade, and those efforts are being stepped up. The governor has issued his warning through Operation Eviction: Get out of town while you still can. We’re coming after those who are in the illegal drug trade. This is a coordinated and special effort and the arrests and convictions are stacking up. If someone is considering becoming involved in illegal drugs, it WON’T pay off and will ruin your life.

Contact Tony at trutherford@graffitiwv.com