Plan for moving up the ranks | News, Sports, Jobs

You’ve written several editorials on horrific rankings on lists of “best” states, as well as the loss of population, especially high-potential residents. It seems the state is stuck in a funk.

As someone who’s lived in many states who’s recently become a resident, I’m convinced the only way to build an economy that grows faster than our peer states is to create and attract growth companies (not government jobs) that pay well both in taxes and wages. Simple but not easy.

Think about what such companies look for. Competitive corporate tax rates, infrastructure (airports, roads/transportation, universities), a business-friendly government, and, most importantly, a well-educated workforce. But it’s a chicken/egg problem. A state needs to have the money to offer all of this but needs businesses to generate the taxes to do so. With the large surplus being reported in Charleston, that money is available now.

I’m not well aware of where WV ranks on tax rates and business-friendly environment but these are easy to upgrade, if expensive. And necessary infrastructure is a long-term investment. That leaves the workforce as an area of ​​focus.

Attracting businesses needs attractive workers, and a lot of that means education. That starts at an early age with getting kids into programs like Head Start and helping working parents to have their kids participate. Grade school public education also has to be strong. Heavy investments in buildings and administration shouldn’t be prioritized over investments in teachers, engaging programs, and helping kids understand the value of education when they are often surrounded by working class family members that may have dropped out of school to pay the bills. Role models and teaching the value of education can help there. I also believe that less focus on sports programs (I know, the third rail of high school politics) and more on math, science, and STEM will go a long way toward boosting graduation rates and college attendance.

Next, building incentives for these college graduates to stay in the state can help with retention of these high-potential workers. This includes building private internships, relief from student loans, and time-bound tax breaks. These incentives are going to have to be substantial until high-wage businesses begin to migrate to the state.

Finally, don’t forget about workers who are no longer in school. For these important residents, leaders can work with the private sector to determine what skills are needed to attract businesses and invest in programs to build those skills. I’m not talking about some generic government-run retraining program but something customized to existing business needs.

For West Virginia to grow faster than her sister states and become a place where more people want to settle, leadership must focus on building a business-friendly environment, attractive tax rates, necessary infrastructure, and a high-skilled workforce. Of course, this is known by all other states so ours must do an exceptional job at it to outpace our “competition.” That involves very savvy marketing.

Build a better mousetrap. Blast the news to the global business community and engage them. It’s a really huge effort but the spend of dollars and effort is an investment that can reap huge returns for the state.

Eric Thacker


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