Using Right to Work to Sell W.Va. to Job Creators

Finally. Nearly 15 months after the West Virginia Legislature passed the West Virginia Workplace Freedom Act, we can finally say that West Virginia is a “Right to Work” state.

Frivolous and drawn-out legal challenges have proven fruitless, as the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals ruled last week to dissolve a hastily issued preliminary injunction that technically prohibited our state from including itself in the majority of states passing workplace freedom laws.

During the time that has passed, we’ve watched as West Virginia has fallen further behind in the race for jobs. Now, we have no excuses for falling behind any further.

In the three years since taking control of the Legislature, the Republican Party has given the state plenty of economic development selling points. We’ve passed landmark legal reforms resulting in West Virginia finally shedding its reputation as a “judicial hellhole.” The Legislature has prioritized regulatory reforms that will put a halt to crippling red tape, repealing more than 160 obsolete rules and regulations in the process (approximately 10 percent of the total active rules for which the Legislature has oversight) and ensuring that new rules sunset after five years.

We’ve sought to provide employers with a clean and educated workforce by tackling education and substance abuse reform measures. Lawmakers have also laid the foundation for the infrastructure necessary to attract well-paying jobs, by investing in both our roads and our broadband infrastructure. And finally, we’ve provided one of the things that we’re frequently told is on every major employer’s check list — right to work.

Now, the real work begins. With the necessary framework for jobs in place, it is up to our state’s chief executive and chief salesperson, Governor Jim Justice, to hit the road and start selling West Virginia as “Open for Business.” After all, what’s the use of these significant reforms if we’re not willing to tell employers about them?

While West Virginia’s Workplace Freedom Act was held up in state court, we got to witness firsthand just what a state can do when you arm a proactive governor with right to work reforms. Following West Virginia’s lead, no doubt, our neighboring state of Kentucky became the 27th right to work state in the nation. With Governor Matt Bevin hitting the economic development trail shortly thereafter, success soon followed.

A mere six months into 2017, and Kentucky has already set a new record for private capital investment. Projects involving Amazon and Toyota are just a few of the high-profile job announcements in the Bluegrass State of late. But perhaps the crowning achievement of Governor Matt Bevin and Kentucky’s recently elected Republican legislature is the announcement of a $1.3 billion investment by Braidy Industries, which will include hundreds of new manufacturing jobs for Kentucky. The CEO of Braidy Industries has acknowledged that such an investment would not have been possible in Kentucky absent the passage of right to work legislation.

Kentucky is not alone in its right to work success. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker recently announced a $10 billion investment by Foxconn to build a plant that will create 13,000 jobs over a 15-year period. Wisconsin’s Department of Administration secretary has expressed his belief that a number of recently passed initiatives were “critical” to landing such an investment, with legal reform and right to work among them.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has similarly spearheaded an economy that ranks as one of the strongest in the world, let alone the nation. Texas was recently ranked by CNBC as the “Top State for Business” over the last 10 years. Governor Abbott cites right to work and legal reform as part of the “pro-growth economic policies … that attract major employers to Texas every day.”

The roadmap is clear, and I would encourage Governor Jim Justice to follow it closely. For instance, Kentucky’s Cabinet for Economic Development, which is the state’s primary agency for job creation and business investment, touts on its web site front and center that Kentucky now brings right to work to the table for potential job providers. Meanwhile, the website for the West Virginia Department of Commerce makes no mention of right to work whatsoever. That is unacceptable.

West Virginia needs to finally start selling its impressive accomplishments over the last three years. We’ve passed the most substantial legal reforms in the nation and our status as a right to work state finally gets us in the conversation with major employers. It’s time for the governor to do what he promised during his election, and start putting on the hard sell to job providers nationwide. I look forward to seeing the governor and his economic development officials hitting the road soon and getting to work on right to work.

Ferns is majority leader of the West Virginia State Senate. He represents the First Senate District. A licensed physical therapist, he is owner of The Ryan Ferns Healthplex Inc. in Benwood.