Implementing Plan for Growth

Mountain State residents received an early Christmas present this year, in the form of the West Virginia Forward study. Like so many nice but complicated things — think electronics — the question now is what to do with it? How do we get the most out of the research?

A collaboration among West Virginia and Marshall universities and the state Departent of Commerce, the idea behind the study was “to identify short-term, larger-scale projects that will boost West Virginia’s economic development efforts.”

We certainly could use some of that.

West Virginia Forward identifies specific segments of the economy that could pay off for us. One, tourism, already is a key employer of many Mountain State residents. Clearly, it can be an ever more important factor.

But the study also points out work needed to build a foundation for growth. It specifies workforce development, business climate, entrepreneurship and infrastructure as keys.

None of the four building block requirements should surprise us. State officials have worked, in a sort of piecemeal fashion, on all of them for years.

One example is entrepreneurship. Viewing opportunities in microbrewing, legislators have cut some red tape blocking those who want to go into the business, by rescinding some old regulations that made little sense.

That fell into the category of business climate, too. There, lawmakers, former Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and Gov. Jim Justice have made enormous progress in identifying state regulations that acccomplish little other than to make life more difficult for businesses and industries. Many have been taken off the books.

In pursuit of making the business climate better, legislators and the governor should continue updating the rulebook. They also should find ways to make the tax environment more appealing. Cutting the much-disliked inventory tax would help.

More needs to be done to encourage entrepreneurs, both in a targeted manner such as with microbreweries and in general. Secretary of State Mac Warner has helped in that regard, making his office much more business-friendly.

Working with a $1.6 billion in bonds approved by voters, the state now can embark on a major program of repairing and upgrading highways and bridges. If at all possible, some of the money should be held back to address specific road and bridge needs voiced by potential new businesses.

Finally, there is workforce development — perhaps the toughest nut to crack. That will require all hands on deck to revamp both public and higher education.

West Virginia Forward is a blueprint for progress in our state. Like so many studies, it could examined, then put aside for attention in the future.

We in the Mountain State don’t have time for that.

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