It’s going to take a lot to turn West Virginia’s economy around. No one thing is going to do it.
Just ask Mike Graney, executive director of the West Virginia Development Office, charged with recruiting and growing businesses in the Mountain State.
In a budget meeting with the Senate Finance Committee, Graney listed two familiar priorities for any business when looking for a location: a qualified workforce and available workforce training, two things that are improving somewhat, but could be better. He added that tax credits and other economic incentives help.
Then, a curve ball. As Phil Kabler noted in his Sunday Statehouse Beat column, Graney said the state’s lack of development pertaining to renewable energy hurts business recruiting efforts. And that’s not just Graney’s opinion.
“Not having, frankly, the solar box checked is a problem, and we’ve heard that from a lot of different companies,” he said.
Interestingly, Graney didn’t mention repealing the inventory tax, the GOP-controlled Legislature’s white whale for the 2020 session. Commerce Secretary Ed Gaunch made sure to lob that out there.
Graney’s job is to bring business to West Virginia, and he’s saying the lack of a renewable energy sector is a drawback, and companies that might consider coming here are telling him this. So the Legislature, and economic development and business agencies, might want to listen.
West Virginia politicians and those driving their agendas will continue to cling to fossil fuels, no doubt. While coal continues to die its slow death, natural gas will be extracted in West Virginia for some time.
Of course, that doesn’t mean investment in renewable energy sources and creating jobs here in that market shouldn’t be pursued. The last time this state put all its eggs in one basket, it didn’t work out so well in the long run. It was ultimately bad for workers, who came away with serious health concerns and continue to be phased out of their jobs. It was bad for communities, bereft after coal companies pulled out, leaving behind crumbling infrastructure, environmental hazards and few places to find gainful employment.
While pipeline construction has helped state revenue collection in the past, it’s still fair to ask just how much the natural gas industry in West Virginia helps actual West Virginians. The answer could be quite a bit, if some plans come through. But why not go after other businesses that can create jobs and actually diversify the state’s economy in the meantime?