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Tourism: Overcoming stereotypes is vital to West Virginia’s future

John Deskins, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at West Virginia University, pulled no punches in discussing one of the factors holding back our economy. In exploring sectors where we should strive for improvement, he said “I think we might be able to ultimately move away from that negative stereotype that we want to avoid.”

To that end, Deskins told lawmakers he believes our state can diversify its economy by promoting our outdoor recreation opportunities, our appeal as a location for remote workers and tourism.

“If we do more to ultimately continue to boost tourism in West Virginia, get people to start thinking of us as a tourism-oriented state at least in some sense, if we can do things to bring more remote workers to come here and spend more money in the state to build momentum in some of our communities,” Deskins said, we might make some progress.

He also talked about the importance of having sellable plots of land, ready for businesses, as we work to catch up with surrounding states in that regard.

But Deskins’ concern for our future stems from the number of people who are simply no longer part of the workforce. The Mountain State is dead last in terms of the percentage of those in the workforce or actively looking for work. And that’s where we get back to those negative stereotypes. Deskins said those numbers are driven by poor educational outcomes, health issues and substance abuse.

“Getting more of our people in the workforce is crucial for economic development. In order to get a business to come to West Virginia, we have to be able to convince that business that it can find the workers that it needs in West Virginia,” he said.

Pride, especially when one believes it is a pride passed down through the generations, is a heck of a thing. It lets us lie to ourselves about where we stand now. We’ve got to get past that, folks. We will be far better off in the long run if we — and our representatives in Charleston and Washington, D.C. — are honest about ALL the challenges we must overcome.

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