PARKERSBURG - West Virginia's relatively good economic condition, small business and Marcellus shale drilling were among topics discussed during the annual meeting of the Area Roundtable Wednesday at the Blennerhassett Hotel.
Keith Burdette, cabinet secretary for the West Virginia Department of Commerce, spoke at the meeting. Burdette was president and CEO of the organization until last year when he was appointed to his current post by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.
Burdette spoke about the department's goals and how he hopes they will move forward. He said despite a down economy nationally, West Virginia is in a good situation economically.
Keith Burdette, cabinet secretary for the West Virginia Department of Commerce, spoke during the annual meeting of the Area Roundtable Wednesday at the Blennerhassett Hotel. (Photo by Jeffrey Saulton)
"Our books are balanced, we're paying our bills, our bond ratings are improved and are improving, our long-term debt is being systematically reduced, we are not borrowing money from the federal government, we have the third-best cash reserves in the United States and in fact we are now ranked as the third-best fiscally managed state in America," he said.
West Virginia has seen its unemployment drop and is below the national average, Burdette said. He said business taxes have been cut by $300 million in the past six years.
"Over the past seven quarters we have led the country in export growth and our GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is the fifth most improved and in the past five years our per capita income has improved at one and a half times of the rest of the country," he said.
"We have the most improved median incomes and, in fact, we are one of five states that have seen any improvement at all."
Burdette said the key to keeping West Virginia in its position is to keep small businesses strong.
"In West Virginia 92 percent of all businesses have fewer than 20 employees," he said. "While we are thrilled when a company like Macy's picks us out of 156 sites across the country, the fact is the bread and butter of the West Virginia economy is the guys who work up the street. They are the guys who make the economy hum every day."
Burdette said the department does what it can to help small businesses in the state.
"We relocated the small business development centers around the state to make them more accessible; we are partnering with organizations like the Area Roundtable," he said. "We are recruiting more business coaches, especially retired successful business men and women who can apply real world knowledge to real world problems."
Burdette said the state has one of only 39 certified technology business coaches in the country.
Burdette also spoke on the potential growth for the state in Marcellus Shale drilling.
"The Marcellus and Utica shale is probably one of the richest energy discoveries in 50 years and is massive in potential," he said. "The big news is the deposits are known as 'wet gas' which means they have components embedded in them other than natural gas."
Burdette said the shale in West Virginia is rich in butane, propane and oil. Once the gas is brought to the surface, it is fractured to break out the components.
Burdette said while not every area will be a site for drilling, the impact of the drilling will be great.
"It is almost beyond calculation with development in the billions and payrolls in the hundreds of millions," he said. "The impact would exceed all of the announced projects for the development office for 2010."
Burdette said decisions in Marcellus Shale drilling will be made quickly and the drillers are carefully studying the communities to make sure they are wanted in the community.
Cam Huffman, president of the Area Roundtable, gave an overview of the roundtable's year. He said 2011 has been a good year overall for the valley.
"Unemployment peaked earlier this year at 11 percent," he said. "But the good news is the unemployment has fallen to 7.5 percent in the past eight months."
Huffman said the roundtable has joined forces with the Chamber of Commerce of the Mid-Ohio Valley to provide better service to members and the business community. He said this allows for a lower operating costs and the two groups received $183,000 this year in grant funding from the state and businesses.
"We are reviewing how our efforts coincide with the state this year," he said. "The state has invested a sizable amount of money on a message that centers on what businesses are saying about doing business in West Virginia. The state has a campaign called 'Doing Business at the Speed of Light' and two of the major players in the effort call Wood County their home."
Huffman said the campaign has been seen on major networks and in magazines aimed at the business community.