West Virginia Leads Nation in Construction Job Growth

WHEELING — Among the 50 states, West Virginia added the highest percentage of new construction jobs in 2017, according to the most recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report.

Gov. Jim Justice touted the data Thursday as he addressed the West Virginia Construction and Design Expo at the Charleston Civic Center.

The labor statistics show 4,300 new construction jobs being created in West Virginia last year, resulting in a 14.4 percent increase over 2016 numbers. Construction jobs in California increased by 9.8 percent, with Nevada and New Mexico coming in at 9.7 percent.

Justice said in 2015, West Virginia was “DOA at best,” and he described the state “as flat bankrupt with nowhere to turn.”

“But things have really, really changed,” he said. “When are we going to awaken to the fact that we’ve really got a movement going on in West Virginia…

“You know why so many things are happening? It’s because all of a sudden, we’re awakening a sleeping giant like you can’t imagine. The world out there is beginning to look at us and say, ‘West Virginia is not that dark, dingy and backward state. West Virginia is really special. Did you know about West Virginia?”

Last year, West Virginia voters approved $1.6 billion to begin a major slate of road construction work throughout the state.

On Thursday, Justice signed into law additional legislation that would allow the state to borrow up to $80 million to revitalize state parks, but said it is anticipated just $55 million will be needed.

Justice said the state parks projects will create “hundreds more” construction jobs in the months to come.

He has said every $1 invested in tourism in West Virginia results in $8 in tax revenue, and Justice had intended this year to dedicate more funding toward promoting the state.

The West Virginia Legislature, however, removed much of this money as they looked for ways in the budget to fund 5 percent pay increases for all state employees.

Justice’s office has raised projected tax revenues for this year by $58 million, but legislators didn’t figure the money into the budget.

“I’m telling you, the money will be there, and we’ll be able to fund tourism,” he said.

West Virginia needs to promote itself, according to Justice, and he announced Thursday the state will be launching a new campaign in the coming weeks. A contest asking state residents to submit photos from around West Virginia resulted in more than 1,600 submissions in the first 24 hours, he said.

Justice also was asked if he planned to sign House Bill 4006, which would eliminate the Department of Arts and Education in the state and send its programs to other agencies. Cost savings have been estimated at about $4 million to the state, though it has been feared changes can’t happen quickly enough to save grant funding for some programs.

“If there is redundancy where we can really save dollars in West Virginia, we need to sign this bill,” Justice said. “But I’ve told people if I sign the bill, I have to have ability to create a secretary of the arts (position).

“We also have to be able to have a seamless transfer … so that nobody will be hurt.”

Justice also spoke of his relationship with President Donald Trump.

“At end of the day, he is more boisterous than I am, and I am pretty boisterous,” Justice said. “But I love him, because I know how much he cares about West Virginia.”

Justice said people often criticize Trump for his decisions, but they don’t realize he has access to more information and would be more knowledgeable about an issue than they are.

“We have to acknowledge that and give him his do as we don’t have that knowledge,” Justice said. “I know his heart, and he really cares about West Virginia.”

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