CHARLESTON – Thank God for Katrina.

Instead of thanking Him for Mississippi, West Virginians now might have to praise last year's enormous hurricane for keeping their state off the bottom of a key Forbes Magazine economic list.

Last week, Forbes.com released a special report entitled "The Best States For Business." West Virginia ranked 49th on the list, wedged between the hurricane-ravaged states of Mississippi (48th) and Louisiana (50th).

"To be fair," the online introduction by Forbes' Statistics Senior Editor Kurt Badenhausen says, "Mississippi and Louisiana were hurt by the devastation that Hurricane Katrina inflicted.

"All three states suffer from weak labor pools and growth prospects as well as a poor quality-of-life ranking."

Forbes compiled its list by ranking all 50 states in six main categories: business costs, economic climate, growth prospects, labor, quality of life and regulatory environment.

The Mountain State's highest ranking was 23rd for business costs. It ranked 29th for economic climate, 36th for quality of life, 47th for regulatory environment, 48th for labor and 50th for growth prospects.

Looking at West Virginia's neighboring states, Virginia topped the list. It ranked no lower than 10th in any of the six major categories. Maryland was 11th overall, Kentucky 33rd, Ohio 34th and Pennsylvania 41st.

"The regulatory environment puts it near the bottom of the 50 states, and one of the biggest problems, really, is the growth prospects for West Virginia," Badenhausen said Wednesday on MetroNews' Talkline radio show with Hoppy Kercheval. "You're looking at projected job growth over the next five years, 46th amongst the 50 states, and then gross state product projected growth is supposed to be second worst among the 50 states."

Steve Roberts, president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, says leaders should look at the Forbes ranking as a roadmap.

"We've done a lot of good things here, but we need to do more," he said. "We could get defensive, angry and upset about the low ranking. But instead, we should try to learn from this and try to make a great state even better."

Spokeswoman Lara Ramsburg said Gov. Joe Manchin is looking ahead to better things for the state.

"We've known for quite sometime that West Virginia faces challenges, but it's been 18-19 months since Gov. Manchin took office and began making sweeping changes," she said. "Those changes are just now starting to have an impact.

"We're looking to the future. So many things have happened in the past 18-19 months: civil justice reform, insurance reform, workers' compensation reform, debt reduction …

"We feel very good about the direction we're heading in. But we know that certainly still more work to be done."

Ramsburg said that includes a special legislative session on modernizing the state tax system. She said he hopes to do that by the end of the year.

"We've tackled the things they're talking about (in the Forbes list)," Ramsburg said. "And like I said, a lot of those changes just now are taking effect. But we're already seeing more and more businesses looking at West Virginia."

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