The recent announcement that Mylan, now Viatris, will shutter its Morgantown manufacturing facility and eliminate 1,500 jobs in the process leaves us all with an inexplicable empty feeling and sense of hopelessness.
It serves as a brutal realization that longstanding state businesses can be “here today, gone tomorrow” due to factors not abundantly clear to us.
If state leadership had advanced warning or insight into the reasons for Viatris’ decision, could they have convinced them to continue operations? While it appears not, this decision serves as a wake-up call.
Similarly, as we work to diversify our economy and recruit new industries to West Virginia, we must be cognizant of the whims of the marketplace and its effect on new business ventures. Do these prospective ventures have the staying power to ride out a market downturn or the enticement of a merger or, more generally, the lure of greener pastures somewhere else?
I recognize that Gov. Jim Justice, the state Department of Commerce and local economic development professionals have had many recent successes and work extremely hard to grow West Virginia’s economy. That same level of diligence also must extend to doing everything imaginable to preserve and retain existing state businesses.
Gov. Justice and our legislative leaders have done a great deal for the coal industry in recent years. However, we also have seen a growing sentiment within our state to attract new, “high tech” businesses to come here while not doing everything imaginable to preserve coal, coal mining and coal-based electric manufacturing.
Coal industry employment in West Virginia currently surpasses the soon-to-close Viatris facility by a large margin. Our coal-fired electric power facilities employ thousands and contribute a substantial amount to the state economy.
Even in its current reduced profile, coal and coal-based electric manufacturing facilities account for one in every six dollars generated within our state. This is substantial and is much too important to take for granted.
We must do everything imaginable to preserve this gigantic economic enterprise.
In many ways, the coal industry finds itself going “Back to the Future.” This industry helped build our state and country over the past 150-plus years and, through modernization and the implementation of the latest innovative technologies, coal continues to play a significant role today.
Coal mining and coal-based electric manufacturing facilities are state-of-the-art operations that have been transformed by the same technological forces that are changing our daily lives. Although we combat the perception daily, the fact is that today’s coal industry is a futuristic workplace. The women and men who design the mines, operate the machinery, manage the power plants and facilitate the transmission of electricity onto the power grid are among the most technically trained professionals of any industry.
These individuals live in most every community across the state. They might be your neighbor, Little League coach or even your pastor. Their children make up a large segment of our public schools and state universities, and their spouses might be a teacher, medical professional or Sunday school teacher.
The mining industry faces many challenges. Natural gas continues to grow as a source fuel for electricity generation, replacing coal in many states that heretofore received shipments of West Virginia coal. While we are adapting to market conditions and continue to innovate, the shifting sands of public policy on the national level pose a far greater threat.
President-elect Joe Biden’s campaign rhetoric and current choices to lead key federal environmental and regulatory posts signal stormy seas ahead for fossil fuel-based industries. We need the ongoing and continued support of state leaders and the public, if we hope to push back against such policies and remain viable and productive.
For the record, the coal industry fully embraces new and innovative businesses coming into our state, and we welcome diversification. We recognize that renewable energy has a role to play. However, we do not believe we should trade one energy job for another.
The coal workforce, whether they mine coal, generate electricity or provide the services and goods necessary to support the industry, is critical to our tax base, communities and economy.
The coal industry has supported West Virginia and its citizens since before we were a state, and with your help, we plan to be a vibrant part of West Virginia’s future.