New signs that announce "Welcome to West Virginia: Open for Business" will greet visitors and passers-through at our highway borders this 2006.

Here's hoping they keep their eyes on the road.

Let's pray they don't stop for gas in McDowell County, where an incredible 37% of West Virginians live in poverty. Or that they won't stop for a bite to eat in Hamlin or Elizabeth or Clay or Point Pleasant, where the jobless rate is more than double the national average.

For most Americans, traveling from states and communities where unemployment is at record lows, such despair would prove Third World-staggering. Witnessing the state's economic underbelly, they won't remember our optimistic pseudo introduction. And they won't soon forget the relative hardship they saw in a state that's developing a reputation for it.

To be sure, the Mountain State has about as much use for sympathy this year as it does cheesy slogans. What we need is investment that will lead to real jobs.

In the grand scheme of things, that's really all we need.

Everything else follows from a robust local economy. More jobs means more income for West Virginians; more income means more local spending, which means more local jobs, which means plenty of money for private or government programs that help our neediest citizens.

But many of our nation's fastest-growing businesses and most influential investors -- the ones creating the jobs of tomorrow we really want -- only know our state from the inside of its courtrooms.

Consider companies like leading drug maker Purdue Pharma, recently squeezed for $10 million by our state's Attorney General, Darrell McGraw. From their perspective, West Virginia is a trouble spot to aggressively avoid. It's the last place they figure to grow; the last place they choose to expand; a geographic scope within which they figure to become a target.

As any small business owner well knows, keeping the doors open is difficult enough, much less doing so in the midst of an anti-business crusader armed with subpoena power.

If our economy is ever to catch up, this prevailing attitude needs to change. More than happy words, only business-friendly actions by our legislature will truly combat the national perception that West Virginia's labor force may be available, but it comes with strings attached.

If a state's job base isn't growing, it's dying. Our elected leaders of today owe it to the next generation of West Virginians to put substance behind their slogans.

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