Growing W.Va. Tourism Industry

West Virginia has just one really big renewable industry – tourism. Our mountains and valleys, forests and streams, wildlife and history will continue drawing visitors long after resources such as coal and natural gas are gone. And our ace in the hole is our people. Many vacationers leave here after their first visits eager to come back and spend more time with Mountain State hosts.

As state residents, businesses and government have become more adept at handling tourism, it has grown to a $5 billion-a-year industry. In comparison, coal mining, long considered West Virginia’s economic mainstay, contributes about $3.5 billion to the state’s gross domestic product.

Much of the state’s success in what some call “the hospitality industry” can be laid at the feet of Betty Carver, who has served as state tourism commissioner since 2005. After working for state government for nearly four decades, she plans to retire May 31.

Her successor will be someone familiar to many Northern Panhandle residents, Amy Shuler Goodwin. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has announced Goodwin’s appointment as tourism commissioner and deputy secretary of commerce. Shuler has served as the governor’s director of communications.

Goodwin’s roots in this area make her familiar with both the success stories and opportunities in tourism here. There are many on both sides of the ledger.

At its heart, tourism is a private enterprise, of course. Here in West Virginia, state facilities such as West Virginia Independence Hall and many state parks make important contributions.

During the next few years, governors and state legislators will struggle to keep West Virginia’s budget in balance. There will be precious little money available for what some consider optional spending on programs such as tourism.

But the industry is a money maker for both the state and the private sector. It is responsible for many jobs – and can create even more. Here’s hoping Goodwin can ensure state policymakers understand that and continue the public-private partnership in tourism support and development.