Leading a mobile revolution

West Virginians are so used to hearing that we are “dead last” — a reminder that comes too often from politicians who want us to believe we are, and that THEY have the solution — that it might come as a shock to some to know we are first in the nation at something. We are the go-to state when it comes to a very high-tech matter of national concern.

When stakeholders from around the country want to know more about mobile voting, they turn to West Virginia — or, more specifically, our Secretary of State Mac Warner. He and some officials on his team attended the South by Southwest Conference earlier this month, where they had a chance to show off our state’s accomplishments. We were first to offer a secure, blockchain-based mobile voting app for overseas service members, who were able to cast their ballots in this past November’s election.

That is a big deal.

It is what caught the attention of Bradley Tusk, founder and CEO of Tusk Holdings, which includes Tusk Philanthropies and its Mobile Voting Project. The idea is to find a secure way to allow as many eligible voters as possible to make their voices heard. To do that, Tusk needed Warner to be part of the discussion. Others involved were plenty of high-tech CEOs — movers and shakers in fields like nano-tech, data, healthcare, blockchain and cryptocurrency.

“Anything you want right now can be done through an app, and these are the guys, sitting at the table, who are doing that,” Warner said.

Warner was putting it mildly when he said West Virginia is “on the map” because of its strides in mobile voting.

An odd feeling, isn’t it? Us? Leading the nation in development and use of a technology that expands the ability for some groups of people to participate in our electoral process?

It takes some getting used to, to think of the kinds of people who travel to Austin, Texas, each year to participate in SXSW seeking out an official from West Virginia as a dinner guest, hoping to mine him for information, but here we are.

It shouldn’t stop here. There is nothing to stop West Virginia from becoming the next Silicon Valley … OK, lots of valleys … maybe Silicon Mountains is better. High-Tech Hollow? Processor Panhandle? … sorry, I’m getting carried away.

It’s hard not to. It’s exciting stuff. But we will all have to wrap our brains around it being possible, first.

Warner is helping us take that first step.

But a change in mindset will be required, too. Politicians will have to loosen their grip in clinging to the way business has been done in the past.

“I wanted those people sitting at that table to locate in West Virginia,” Warner said. “I want our state to be a place where it’s easy to start new businesses like that.

” … I think we have that chance in the digital age to make West Virginia the place where we can set our regulations, law, codes to build the digital economy.”

Warner talked about the kinds of things millenials are looking for when it comes to quality of life, and West Virginia has almost all of it. But he said right now Wyoming is the state doing the best job marketing its business-friendly environment. The Mountain State is much more geographically appealing to young families who want to be able to switch back and forth between outdoor adventures, and all there is to offer in the more urban areas around Washington, D.C., and up and down the Eastern Seaboard.

“We need to make them understand West Virginia is open for business,” Warner said.

“We’re positioned, we just need to recognize it and get out front.”

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Building a diversified economy is going to take more than just rolling out the welcome mat and a few brilliant ideas. Employers need to know they will be able to tell their workers they can send their kids to good schools; and our current students need to know they are receiving an education that will prepare them to join that diversified workforce.

(And, by the way, I hear over and over from our region’s current employers that it is not just the academic stuff and the skills these kids will need. SOMEONE has to teach them how important it is to be good employees, no matter where they work. Show up on time, be sober, understand your role and drop the sense of entitlement … you get the idea.)

If you want to be part of the discussion that might help us get there, attend tomorrow’s meeting at 6 p.m. at Blennerhassett Elementary/Middle School. This, too, is a big deal.

Christina Myer is executive editor of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She can be reached via e-mail at cmyer@newsandsentinel.com

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