Diversifying Our Economy in W.Va.

West Virginia has two addiction problems. The worst is that so many Mountain State residents are substance abusers. But the second, critical to all of us, is that we were hooked on coal for so many decades.

As long as the orders for our black gold kept coming in from utilities eager to provide low-cost electricity to their customers, that was fine. But in large measure because of President Barack Obama’s war on coal and affordable electricity, that no longer is the case. The withdrawal symtoms are awful.

Ours is the worst state economy in the nation, according to Governing magazine. We are tied with Alaska at 49th (for those wondering why we could not rely on Mississippi to save us from last place, that state was ranked 45th).

Governing’s analysts took a comprehensive look at key economic indicators including gross domestic product, per capita income, total incomes and growth (or, in our state, lack of it).

At least years of prudent handling of state finances left us better off than some places. West Virginia state government still has a Rainy Day Fund of several hundred million dollars. New Mexico lawmakers have just been told their reserves have run dry. Governing ranks their economy at No. 47.

Our problem is not what other states have that we do not, but the reverse. We have coal. For many years, that was enough to carry us. No more.

And we are not alone. Wyoming, another big coal state, ranks 48th in Governing’s analysis of economies.

Despite promises by the current White House to help regions hurt by Obama’s policies, Washington has done nothing to help West Virginia diversify our economy. That makes it critical that state government and business leaders find ways to do that because, as usual, it seems that, as usual, we’re on our own.