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Travis Kahle

Travis Kahle

It’s no secret that West Virginia’s economy is one of the worst in America. Many of our core industries have been in decline for decades, along with our population.

Occasionally, there are flashes of hope.

The Justice administration had announced that China Energy would be making $84 billion in natural gas investments in 2017, but that deal appears to be all but dead.

The recent natural gas boom in Central Appalachia held enormous potential for West Virginia. There were talks of the construction of a methane cracker plant or massive underground storage hub in the state. However, those big projects haven’t come to fruition, and it seems that Pennsylvania and Ohio are experiencing larger economic boosts from natural gas than West Virginia.

The Mountain State has become like Charlie Brown. Every time we think we’re going to connect with the football, Lucy pulls it away.

Despite years of disappointment, there is hard data that suggests our fortunes could change. Last year, Virgin Hyperloop announced plans to build the Hyperloop Certification Center in Tucker and Grant counties. The West Virginia University Bureau of Business and Economic Research predicts that the HCC will provide $48 million annually to the West Virginia economy. Plus, it’s the kind of project that will boost our state’s image to investors and the general public.

The aerospace industry also is growing in West Virginia. Northrop Grumman has plans to invest heavily in its Rocket Center location (in the Eastern Panhandle), creating up to 500 new jobs. Marshall University also broke ground on their Bill Noe Flight School at Yeager Airport last year.

A few months ago, I wrote an op-ed about the high potential of the tourism industry in our state. While we already have some great resorts and recreation opportunities, I felt that West Virginia could become one of the premier tourist destinations in America with the right investments and improvements. A giant step was taken with the passage of the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve Designation Act.

Since the New River Gorge was already managed by the National Park Service, there won’t be many noticeable changes to the park. However, the mere prestige of being designated as a National Park has been shown to increase visitors.

Because of the nature of my job as a career center director, I keep a close watch on employment growth in our state. I’ve seen far too many empty job promises, such as the China Energy deal or the elusive “return of the coal industry.”

That said, something is different this time around. There was concrete action taken on substantive projects in 2020. West Virginia’s congressional delegation should be congratulated for its work.

The West Virginia Development Office deserves praise for attracting companies like Virgin Hyperloop, and the West Virginia Tourism Office should be recognized for its innovative marketing efforts to improve the image of our state.

For the first time in a long time, I am excited about the economic future of West Virginia.

Travis Kahle is director

of the Center for Career Development at the

University of Charleston.