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Op-ed: As a new decade begins, let West Virginia continue to roar

As a beautiful snow blankets much of West Virginia, I am reviewing the many blessings of life in the mountain state. The beauty of the snow is a reminder that we live in a wondrous place. We are surrounded by the embrace of nature. Our communities are made up of good, caring people. I have the privilege of traveling throughout our state. Everywhere I meet people who deeply love West Virginia and its people.

As I listen to people from all walks of life, I hear ideas that reflect optimism for our future. We are creating new jobs. Since 2016, West Virginia has seen a net gain of thirty-thousand new jobs. Tax revenues are also trending up as more people find jobs and increase their purchasing power. These are powerful and welcome indicators of economic progress.

As 2020 begins, this is the appropriate time to reflect on what policies are working in West Virginia and consider what needs to be accomplished to assure more success. Clearly, higher education is an engine of growth. Investment in education pays big rewards. West Virginians deeply love their colleges and universities and want them to grow and succeed. We must adequately fund and support these important institutions.

Our K-12 system of public education needs our support and attention. The economy has moved quickly to become knowledge based. Companies in West Virginia today could hire nearly twenty-thousand new workers, however these potential employees must have the knowledge and skills required for 21st century careers. Our school children deserve the best we can give them. Settling for anything less than best is not who we are and does not reflect our mountaineer values.

An inexorable fact of life in the first quarter of the 21st century is that our nation is made up of people willing to move to greener pastures. Lower taxes and more freedom have been part of the American dream since the founding of our nation. Most of us believe in innovation and enterprise. We seek opportunity and what is best for our fellow citizens. We are witnessing an historic shift in population away from the highest tax, big government states to the lower tax states that also have good education, jobs, opportunity and hope.

I suggest as 2020 begins that all of us work for a West Virginia that welcomes employers, is determined to grow and improve and seeks innovation and success. There are several steps that can be taken to assure this forward movement. First, high speed internet is a must. Every effort must be made to broaden access and increase internet speeds. Second, good health must be a high priority. We must expand and support access to the best health for mountaineers.

Third, tax rates must be low and broad-based. We must be competitive with other growing states. While this is not an exhaustive list, it is one that should be made a top priority for growing West Virginia.

We can, and must, always strive to be the best possible version of West Virginia. Let us not forget however, that more good news is on our state’s horizon. The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce and your local Chamber of Commerce will work diligently and without pause to keep West Virginia moving in the right direction. We are committed and dedicated to a West Virginia that is connected, diverse, beautiful and prosperous. We invite you to join us as we shape ‘an almost heaven’ West Virginia.

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Steve Roberts is the President of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce. The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce speaks for business and is the voice of thoughtful, reasoned ambition for a better West Virginia. Chamber members are your small business neighbors and employ over half of West Virginia’s workforce.

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