One of the persistent complaints from young people beginning to contemplate their economic futures is that there are simply no jobs available to keep them in West Virginia. They would like to remain in their home states, they say, but they believe there is nothing for them.
Now, according to Charlie Burd, Executive Director of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia, there is an economic wave approaching our region that could very well bring back the kinds of jobs our young people say we are missing. Burd says this is no longer a boom and bust situation.
"Your grandchildren might well retire during the development of this (Utica and Marcellus) shale," he said.
There are jobs in "every possible avenue you can look at," Burd said. Good, well-paying jobs - not all of which require spending exorbitant amounts of money and time in school after high school graduation; though they do require willingness to work hard.
IOGA has spent a lot of money in its effort to let students know what opportunities will soon be available. With educational outreach programs and $127,000 in scholarships, the group hopes to make kids understand how important it is for them to prepare themselves for the jobs that will allow them to stay closer to home.
If anything must be hammered home, particularly to young people in Appalachia, it is Burd's message about drug use. The companies that will bring this economic boom to our state conduct drug tests before the hiring process and throughout employment.
"You cannot work in our industry and not pass a drug test," Burd said. He gave one example of a company in which, if a driver tests positive for drugs, he or she simply cannot work for the next ten years.
Ten years. A person unable to resist the toxic saturation of our region with an ever-growing variety of drugs could be throwing away a chance to do good work, in an economically stable industry, for a decade.
"We've sent too many of our kids away," Burd said. "Maybe this (development of the Utica and Marcellus shales) will bring some back."
Industry is moving to answer the plea of so many that we do what we can to create jobs for those who hope to stay in West Virginia. But it is up to those job seekers to maintain their end of the bargain. They have to be hirable. They have to get good educations, be hard-working and reliable, and stay drug-free.
Burd relayed a story about one work site that actually had to be shut down because more than half the workers failed drug tests. The responsibility for those lost jobs rests squarely with the workers who made the decision to use drugs, instead of keeping themselves above the influence in order to properly do the jobs for which they were being paid.
Parents, teachers, guidance counselors - everyone - must add to the already long list of reasons not to get sucked into drug use the fact that doing so will cost you a chance at a better economic future. Adding to the pollution of the West Virginia workforce will drive companies to bring in outside workers who are willing to avoid drugs. It will play into a cycle that has plagued this state for generations.
But these kids - this generation - can do something to stop it, if they will only work hard, both in school and at the job site, and stay clean. The rest of us are failing if we do not send them that message, loud and clear.
Christina Myer is executive editor of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org