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Becoming The New Boulder?

West Virginia’s eastern mountains are our secret economic development weapon. A strip of 10 to 12 counties running roughly southwest from Maryland includes some of the most beautiful scenery in the United States.

It offers many outdoor recreation opportunities, and House of Delegates Speaker Roger Hanshaw thinks that’s important.

During a recent meeting with journalists from throughout the state, Hanshaw, R-Clay, explained. After doing some investigating, he found that, “If a tech company leaves Silicon Valley, the most likely place for it to go is Boulder, Colorado.”

“It’s the outdoor recreation opportunities,” Hanshaw explained, adding that, “We have those opportunities here in West Virginia.”

We most certainly do. We don’t call ourselves wild and wonderful for nothing.

But are ski slopes, whitewater rivers, hiking/biking trails, etc., enough?

No. No company is in business to please its employees. A profit has to be made. When a tech company is looking for a new location, its first consideration is what the workforce is doing for 40 hours each week. Do our eastern mountain counties have the infrastructure, including widespread access to broadband internet service, that tech companies need?

No, Hanshaw said. He and state Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, said that is one reason it’s imperative for the state to expand broadband access.

But our eastern mountains have something else the techies like, Carmichael added. They like to have “alternative energy” — read, windmills and solar arrays — available. A trip through the mountains checks that off the list. There are windmills everywhere.

Still, I’m not certain we can attract the young tech crowd. One reason West Virginia’s mountains are wild is that they’re relatively remote from cities. Washington, D.C. is a three-hour drive from the Potomac Highlands.

The techies want “culture” with their wilderness. That means being able to get to concerts, museums, etc., easily. That’s a tougher nut for West Virginia to crack (except, of course, in the northwest quadrant, where Pittsburgh is an hour away).

There’s another difference between Boulder and West Virginia, a fellow newspaperman pointed out to Carmichael and Hanshaw: They have legalized recreational marijuana. We don’t. Rightly or wrongly, that matters to a substantial number of the young techies.

West Virginia is not going to become Silicon Valley East. Still, I think Hanshaw and others eager to capitalize on “wild and wonderful” are on the right track.

Email Myer at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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