Perhaps the single largest public gathering of high-powered business and government leaders in West Virginia is the annual state Chamber of Commerce business summit. It is in progress now at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs.
Among those scheduled to speak this year were U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.; Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and U.S. Reps. David McKinley and Shelley Capito, both R-W.Va. Also in attendance will be leading state legislators.
This year as in the past, improving West Virginia's economy is a key topic at the summit. If policymakers at both the state and federal levels are wise, they will pay more than passing attention to what movers and shakers in the business community have to say.
Far from anticipating growth, many West Virginians worry our economy is about to enter a period of contraction, thanks to President Barack Obama's campaign to wreck the coal industry and drive electricity prices up. Of course Manchin, a fierce opponent of the White House on that score, needs no reminding of how devastating Obama's program will be to our state.
But at the level of state policy, much can be done to blunt the impact of the war on coal, even to usher in a new period of prosperity.
Trouble is, most state officials are well aware of what needs to be done.
Initiatives such as holding the size and expense of state government down and reforming the public school system are critical, of course. But so are specific actions such as reducing the tax burden on businesses and cutting through some of the red tape of government regulations. And frankly, the perception that state government policy sometimes is a tool of special interests needs to be addressed, too.
We know specific actions by state government that would make West Virginia more attractive to businesses. But we also understand policymakers have been reluctant to antagonize special interests by undertaking some of those changes.
Unless government officials attending the summit act on the business community's recommendations, the Chamber's annual gatherings will be exercises in futility.