Cohen

By STEVE COHEN

CHARLESTON -- Is it not surprising that an Indiana-based plastics company recently chose our Virginia neighbor over the Mountain State to expand its operations?

West Virginia, after all, is not only "Open for Business," but is home to the Polymer Alliance Zone, designed to capitalize on firms in such industries. Matrixx Group is investing nearly $10 million in the venture.

An explanation for losing out to these newly created jobs may have come from Virginia Lt. Governor Bill Bolling, however.

He told a television interviewer this spring that his state's ranking by Forbes magazine last year as the best in the U.S. for jobs was helped, in large part, "by having a litigation environment that doesn't drive business away."

Recently released census data should alarm West Virginians that not landing the Hoosier State's new manufacturing plant may be part of a troubling pattern. The government figures show that all five of the metropolitan areas of the state have lost population. All five of Virginia's have gained.

What about our other surrounding states? Of the top five metro regions in each state contiguous to West Virginia -– 25 in all -– only five had an out-migration of residents. Two of Pennsylvania's top five declined, two of Ohio's, one of Maryland's and none of Kentucky's.

As a matter of fact, West Virginia is the only state in the entire nation to lose population in each of the metro areas included in the census report.

What is especially unfortunate about losing manufacturing jobs like those Matrixx will create in Virginia is that the same Forbes magazine which last year ranked the Old Dominion tops for employment growth –- and West Virginia 49th -– has this year picked three West Virginia communities among the "Best Places for Business and Careers."

But as respected Marshall University economist Cal Kent observed, the flight of young people to other states for jobs is holding us back.

Respondents to a recent West Virginia Chamber of Commerce survey of small business members felt that West Virginia's "lawsuit friendly environment" will get worse, hurting job prospects for families here.

Maybe Matrixx executives read the news account not long ago of the woman involved in a highway fatality while speeding in Boone County on her way to a drug treatment center. Not only is she being sued, but the drug treatment center is also, as if it is responsible for the driver's alleged recklessness.

West Virginia's broken lawsuit system is driving jobs from our state. Once our leaders realize that, we just may produce enough nylon, polycarbonate, polypropylene and polyethylene to reverse those pathetic census results.

Cohen is executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.

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