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Elected Leaders Look at Education, Future Jobs

February 28, 2013
By DANIEL DORSCH - Staff Writer , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

MOUNDSVILLE - State representatives from Ohio and West Virginia differ regarding major issues in their states for the next few years, but two things they agree on are education and jobs.

"Educational reform is going to be a big topic," said West Virginia Delegate Mike Ferro, D-Marshall.

Delegate David Evans, R-Marshall, agreed.

Article Photos

Belmont County commissioners, at right, Ginny Favede, standing, Chuck Probst, seated, and Matt Coffland, talk with constituents following a recent meeting.

File Photo

"I think that education will always be on the front burner," Evans said, emphasizing the issue's priority status.

W.Va. Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, said education in West Virginia needs to be broadened to include the learning of trades.

"We need to tie in workforce development and vocational training," Kessler said. "We need to get people trained for the jobs that are out there, the jobs that are available."

Some of those jobs are in the oil and gas industry, Kessler said.

"Marcellus gas is a tremendous opportunity for at least the next decade," Kessler said. "If we properly manage that resource, it will go a long way, maybe even for the next 30, 40 or 50 years."

Kessler has suggested for the past two years that West Virginia establish a futures fund, much as Alaska did with its oil money. This would help the state save for the future and benefit all state residents.

Ohio's goals and issues over the next few years are similar to those of the Mountain State.

"It's always about creating jobs, rebuilding communities and making sure the schools survive and continue to grow," said Ohio Rep. Jack Cera, D- Bellaire. Cera agreed with West Virginia representatives on the importance of the oil and gas industry.

"In the future, oil and gas will play a part," Cera said, noting the oil and gas industry continues to create jobs, helping communities grow.

While considering these issues, legislators mentioned a few additional things to keep an eye on over the next few years.

"Health care could be one of the issues," Evans said. "Roads will always be one of them."

Road safety has been a priority for Evans since before his election to the House of Delegates in November. He added that taxes and state funding also are likely to be an issue for the state.

"Money is always going to be a big problem because someone will always ask for it," Evans said, noting a sizable decline in gambling dollars over the past several months.

Ferro said prison overcrowding is becoming a major problem in West Virginia, and substance abuse is on the rise.

"Substance abuse is extremely important to address," Ferro said, adding that a possible statewide expansion of Medicaid services could impact the budget.

"I hope that whatever reforms they try to make are prudent and pragmatic," Ferro said. "We need to go about it in a reasonable manner. We can't run into everything all at once."

One thing both states could be in competition for is one of the three manufacturing "hubs" proposed by President Obama to spur technology innovation in business.

Obama said in his State of the Union address that he wants to expand his National Network for Manufacturing Innovation project, based on the success of the pilot center in Youngstown, Ohio. Plans to expand include placing hubs in other communities.

"Absolutely we're looking at that" for West Virginia, said Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. "We think we have some prime locations that might be able to help now that he is wanting to expand.

"Now that they've had the success, I want to go look at what they've done in Youngstown - that's close to us, as you know - and perhaps show some sites in West Virginia," he continued. "Especially in the Wheeling area, there's Wheeling-Pitt (offices) downtown. I'm telling you, there are some prime targets. We will be doing everything we can to bring their attention to this."

Nearly one year ago, Obama announced the formation of the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, with up to 15 institutes for manufacturing innovation expected to be located around the country. The National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute was opened in August in Youngstown, Ohio, as the pilot center for the program.

The pilot center is focused on additive production, which is sometimes called 3-D printing. The process allows a three-dimensional, solid object of virtually any shape to be created - layer by layer - from a digital model.

A 3-D "printer" deposits thin layers of metals, plastics, ceramics or other materials precisely as directed by the digital model. It could have applications in industries such as defense, medical, aerospace, automotive and metals manufacturing. The process could allow parts to be customized on site rather than ordered and shipped to the site where they are needed.

"A once-shuttered warehouse is now a state-of-the art lab where new workers are mastering the 3-D printing that has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything," Obama said. "There's no reason this can't happen in other towns."

Rep. David B. McKinley, R-W.Va., expects there will be a lot of jockeying from politicians and communities hoping to land the next hub.

"What I like ... what they did in Youngstown ... they took an abandoned warehouse and brought it back to life," McKinley said. "That's exactly what has been happening in Wheeling and across the nation for years - reusing old buildings. I'm hoping that maybe we can participate.

"We understand the value. There's not a better way to look at great design and energy savings than looking at existing buildings rather than starting from scratch," he added. "Could that happen in Wheeling? Yes, it's just a matter of getting it in front of the president. I hope he will look at West Virginia and the impact he could have on this."

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said he will introduce legislation to create more of the innovation manufacturing hubs.

His measure would establish public-private institutes to help "bridge the gap between basic research and product development" while leveraging investment dollars.

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