The year 2018 begins in West Virginia with the economic outlook looking brighter than at any time in recent history. Thank goodness. West Virginia is long overdue for consistently good economic news.
West Virginia’s biggest news story of 2017 was the announcement by the Justice administration of a memorandum of understanding with China Energy for $84 billion in investments over the next 20 years.
That number dwarfs another big investment number, the $8.6 billion in regional natural gas infrastructure projects approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for pipeline construction to transport natural gas produced in West Virginia to markets in surrounding states.
Skepticism about whether the China Energy investment will come to full fruition abounds — and rightly so — but even if only about a tenth of it comes through, an $8 billion-plus investment in West Virginia energy over the next two decades is still huge for the Mountain State.
Also, West Virginia voters overwhelmingly approved a $1.6 billion road bond amendment for the state. Combined with a leveraging of federal dollars and a planned increase in turnpike tolls that will pay for other road bonds, West Virginia will undertake one of its largest ever road and bridge building and repair efforts beginning in 2018.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress approved tax reform that will allow many West Virginians to keep more of their own hard-earned money.
The new tax law also frees up resources to small-business owners to grow their companies — which could benefit nearly all West Virginia businesses, since 95 percent of them qualify as small business who employ half of the state’s private-sector workforce.
What’s more, 2017 also saw many announcements from major companies about investments to grow jobs, including Toyota Motor Manufacturing of West Virginia and Hino Motors. And let’s not forget the many previously announced projects underway, such as Macy’s and Procter and Gamble.
Yes, West Virginia still has deep challenges compared to many other states — including leading the nation in the opioid epidemic, a low workforce participation rate, low educational attainment and losing population.
But one of the best solutions for many social issues is a churning economy that creates jobs, investment and opportunity.
Congratulations, West Virginia, for entering the new year with such a positive economic outlook. May we all do our part to help diversify and grow the state’s economy to increase opportunity for all.