Forward: Economic study deserves a close look

When the great minds at West Virginia’s colleges and universities are bent to the same challenge, the rest of us can be confident they will come up with solutions that mean progress. It is encouraging, then, to know the folks at West Virginia University and Marshall University have joined forces with state commerce officials to develop West Virginia Forward, part of which is a roadmap for the state’s economy.

Identified as industries in which West Virginia could play an important role were aerospace maintenance, automotive parts manufacturing, metals, plastics, chemicals, cybersecurity, higher-end tourism, automotive assembly, other downstream oil and gas manufacturing, computer cloud services, data centers and life sciences.

Not to worry, WVU President E. Gordon Gee assures “we will continue to support efforts to support our rebounding coal industry.” But the key to West Virginia Forward is looking ahead, not behind.

Education will be essential — though associates degrees, certificates, apprenticeships and other skills-based, technical training should be as much an option for high school graduates as they have been told is the case for expensive four-year degrees. Other pieces to the puzzle will be infrastructure improvements (roads, bridges, broadband access, clean water, etc.); regulatory and legislative chances; and maintaining the partnership with institutions such as WVU and Marshall that fuel new ideas and continued economic diversity.

Within the next few weeks, we can expect the full report on the West Virginia Forward study. Lawmakers, public officials, business leaders and everyday folks should take a look at it and figure out what we can all do to make its title a reality.