PARKERSBURG - A Parkersburg businessman is leading the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce to create opportunities for business development, new jobs and to improve the lives of West Virginians across the state.
Richard Adams, 66, the chairman and chief executive officer of United Bankshares Inc. and United Bank, was named the chairman of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce at its annual meeting in August.
"We live and work in a great state," Adams said. "Much progress has been made to improve the business climate in West Virginia; however much more needs to be accomplished.
"I am proud to say the Chamber is strongly committed to improving West Virginia's environment for education and economic development and is nationally recognized for excellence in speaking for its member firms."
Adams has been involved in the Chamber for most of his business career. He was chairman of the local Chamber of Commerce in Parkersburg and has been involved with the West Virginia Chamber for many years, serving on its board.
"I felt it was important to serve as chairman," he said. "United Bank is the largest company headquartered in West Virginia.
"The future of the state is very important to our company and to me personally."
With the recent announcement of the possibility of an ethane cracker plant coming to Wood County, Adams said such a facility could change the economic landscape of the entire area.
"If that becomes a reality, it would be a tremendous boost to this market and the entire region," he said. The governor (Earl Ray Tomblin) indicated it would create 10,000 construction jobs.
"That is unbelievable. That would do a lot for this community. It would be a wonderful thing."
One of the Chamber's goals has been to make the state more competitive with other states to create jobs, improve education and build the quality of life in the state. To accomplish that, the Chamber developed four "Pillars For West Virginia Growth."
The "Pillars" outline four main categories that require attention to improve West Virginia: education and workforce readiness; business climate; quality of life and good government; and infrastructure and economic development.
These pillars include having effective K-12 public schools; a strong community and technical college system working in sync with employers; public schools and higher education; having a competitive and sustainable tax system to stimulate growth and job creation; having more efficient and effective regulatory policies that accomplish their legislative purpose without hindering job creation and growth; having improvements that ensure West Virginia's legal system is fair, predictable and prompt.
The pillars also call for the state to have safe and healthy communities that fight crime, drug abuse and promote safety; to develop access to locations for manufacturing and producing companies to build businesses to provide good-paying, full-time jobs; and having sufficient infrastructure (transportation, water and sewer, energy, broadband) to meet future needs.
"I would say these pillars are about creating a vibrant state for its people and their families," Adams said. "These are the things that we need to be emphasized if we are going to make West Virginia what we want it to be."
The state has already seen changes in its business climate with lower business taxes, the privatization of the state worker's compensation system and legal reforms.
"More needs to be done in the legal environment," Adams said. "The bottom line is we have to have policies in West Virginia that are competitive with other states."
A number of years ago, West Virginia used to rank at the bottom of many lists for encouraging business development while Virginia ranked toward the top.
"Obviously, the two states are side by side," Adams said. "What makes the difference?
"It comes down to the policies that have been adopted."
Adams said half of United Bank's company is in West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The other half is in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.
"They are both the same size, but we pay less in taxes in Virginia, but we have more lawsuits in West Virginia," Adams said. "It all comes down to being competitive when you talk about creating jobs.
"We expanded into Virginia, because it is a very favorable place to do business, but we are still working hard to make West Virginia more business-friendly."
More member participation in the Chamber's Political Action Committee is a primary priority of his one-year term, Adams said. The Chamber has good communication with the governor and lawmakers in the Legislature.
"We cannot make positive change in West Virginia without the necessary votes in the Legislature," he said.
Last year, the Chamber helped craft education reform legislation that was passed and signed into law and has worked at making the state's tax structure more conducive for business development.
"If we have a pro-business legislature, we are going to have an environment that can create jobs," Adams said. "In addition to making necessary changes, we also need to do a better job of selling the positives about living and working in West Virginia.
"The West Virginia Chamber continues to welcome the opportunity to improve our state's performance in these critically important areas," he said.