Keep Moving Forward to Improve W.Va. Economy

As leaders from across the state gather this week for the West Virginia Chamber’s Annual Meeting and Business Summit, there will be numerous conversations about the progress underway in the Mountain State.

Speakers and panelists will highlight impressive improvements: job growth, increased state revenue and a decline in unemployment. Key indicators for the previous two years show:

– 3.5 percent increase in state revenue,

– 11th-highest wage growth in the nation since the Great Recession,

– 8th highest GDP growth in 2017,

– 6.4 percent increase in personal income tax collections,

– 25 percent increase in severance tax collections,

– 2,700 mining jobs added,

– 4,100 new construction jobs added, and

– 21.7 percent increase in natural gas marketed production.

In three years, West Virginia has added 16,000 jobs and reduced unemployment. These numbers prove West Virginians are turning the economy around. This happened because there is a determination to put people and jobs first.

The improvements were facilitated by multiple pro-growth policies, created by the West Virginia Legislature in recent years, to make the Mountain State competitive. It is impressive to note these changes came without new business, sales or income taxes. Specifically, 55 pieces of legislation became law. Included:

n Removing burdensome taxes with the termination of the workers’ compensation severance tax and premium surcharges.

n Modernizing employment law by repealing the prevailing wage, making the state 26th in the nation to have right-to-work, and clarifications of striker benefits.

n Making certain proposed and existing regulatory agency rules are handled in an efficient and effective manner.

n Adopting laws consistent with other states to detour lawsuit abuse.

n Providing energy policies to power tomorrow by providing modernization of the laws to allow development of oil, gas and minerals through co-tenancy and majority protection policies.

n Ensuring a responsible government by eliminating single-ticket voting and making the election of nonpartisan judges.

Additionally, the state is working diligently to provide enhancements to infrastructure through passage in 2017 of the Roads to Prosperity Bond Amendment and work on broadband expansion. Together, these efforts send a message that West Virginia is serious about its future to attract and to keep jobs here. However, our focus cannot wane; more is needed to build a better business climate, to strengthen our workforce and to provide a quality of life in the state. These, too, will be focal points of discussion for the more than 1,000 participants attending the event.

The Chamber and its members know the conversations planned for the Summit are critical. It is urgent to find the best blueprint for the state’s future. We must. The members employ more than half of the state’s workforce. They understand the importance of never losing sight of this and the advantage of doing business here. They also know what it will take to make West Virginia more attractive for job growth and economic prosperity.

For the state to be its best, the priorities must include establishing an intermediate appellate court, expecting and delivering education excellence for our children, and preparing our talent pipeline of tomorrow’s workforce. Without these, West Virginia cannot reach its fullest potential.

The state is the largest state in the nation without an intermediate appellate court. West Virginia would benefit from a statewide online-case management system for its court system and is one of only a small number of states that penalizes investment in equipment and inventory by imposing a personal property tax on these investments. Recognizing and addressing these issues will further the state’s progress and build a stronger economy to provide jobs and a better quality of life for West Virginians — a life that keeps West Virginians in West Virginia.

The Mountain State is on the road to be the state we know it can be — a state where jobs are available and the economy is its strongest. We cannot slow, nor can we doubt this possibility. We must commit to the vision and keep moving forward.

Nothing quite succeeds like success, and our residents deserve the best. We must believe this, work toward this, and delivering this.

Steve Roberts is the president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, the state’s largest business association. To learn more about the organization, its mission and the Business Summit, visit www.wvchamber.com. The Summit is being held at The Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs.

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