Like it or not, the number of jobs provided directly and indirectly by the coal industry is dropping in West Virginia. And while there may still be ups and downs, coal will never be the big job provider in West Virginia that it used to be.
West Virginia’s abundant natural resources made the state a haven for mining and manufacturing jobs during much of the 20th century, but ultimately those steel, glass and chemical manufacturing jobs disappeared almost as quickly as they appeared early in the century.
Even West Virginia’s current natural gas job boom, which is creating thousands of new drilling and construction jobs, will recede as facilities needed to carry the abundant Marcellus and Utica shale resources are eventually built, requiring fewer workers than needed during this period of expansion.
So what is the state to do?
Keep working to diversify the economy.
No one said economic development and diversification is easy, but the state’s citizens can’t let up.
It’s not up to just the state Department of Commerce or local chambers of commerce to promote economic development. Anyone with a pulse and an idea can take part.
That’s why the series of discussions sponsored by the West Virginia Center for Civic Life called is a good start.
“What’s Next, West Virginia?” is a series of conversations that will take place across the state designed to encourage talking, thinking, and actions based on West Virginians’ own ideas for building a more vibrant and diverse economy, according to the group’s website.
Too often in West Virginia, the attitude has been that economic development is someone else’s job. Too often, unemployed and underemployed people wait for a company to come in and build a factory and add a bunch of jobs to the economy, or give up and search for jobs out of state. Not enough consider that they can use their own skills and talents to create a job.
No one should confuse talking about economic diversification as an attack on existing industries. The state can and should work to divesify its economy, while supporting existing employers, too.
“The goal behind community dialogue is not merely to draw a crowd and fill a room with opinionated people,” the What’s Next West Virginia website says. “The purpose is much bigger and more powerful. When people talk together about common concerns, they take ownership of problems. They talk about what they can do, not just what others ought to do. . . . Communities in a democracy are healthier when citizens are doing the work of citizens.”
Upcoming workshops are Thursday in Buckhannon, Aug. 19 in Martinsburg, Aug. 21 in Beckley, and Sept. 3 in Charleston.