Investment: West Virginia must diversify economy
State officials are right to be pleased with improvements in West Virginia’s economy during the past few years. Unemployment, at a statewide average of 4.6 percent has not been lower in some time.
But putting the number in context reveals this is a situation in which the grass really is greener on the other side of the hill.
Gov. Jim Justice, earlier this month, had this to say about the economy: “Businesses are realizing West Virginia is the diamond in the rough that they may have missed in a lot of ways. Now, with that realization, we hope to see more and more businesses choose West Virginia as a place to grow and bring more jobs along with them.”
Let us hope the governor is right about the business community’s opinion of our state. For now, West Virginia remains in the same pattern it has held for generations, of lagging behind much of the rest of the country in growth.
Our unemployment rate in August certainly was good, compared to what it was for several years. But during that month, just four states (Alaska, Arizona, Mississippi and New Mexico) and the District of Columbia had worse numbers than ours.
Within the state, 35 counties had unemployment higher than 4.6 percent. Fourteen were above 6 percent. Nearly every county in the southern coalfields exceeded that rate.
Clearly, then, we in the Mountain State have much to do if we are to get into the nation’s economic mainstream.
Legislators have been laboring to make West Virginia more attractive to businesses, but the relatively strained economy makes that a vicious cycle. Providing incentives such as tax relief is difficult when, as now is the case, there is concern our budget for the current fiscal year may not be balanced, and revenue will be sorely needed.
But unless we find ways to diversify our economy and bring good new jobs to the state, that cycle is unlikely to be interrupted.
Too often, our state’s leaders worry we cannot afford to do what is needed to accomplish that diversification. The question is whether we can afford not to do it.