By HOPPY KERCHEVAL

MORGANTOWN -- West Virginia has gotten yet another bad business ranking. This time it comes from Chief Executive Magazine, which recently published its list of the best and worst states to do business in 2011.

Our state ranked 42nd, down eight spots from the year before.

It is tempting to dismiss the story. It's not the first time West Virginia has been dealt chin music by a business publication.

But these rankings were determined by more than 500 CEOs who considered a "wide range of criteria, from taxation and regulation to work force quality and living environment."

And according to their analysis, West Virginia is one of the worst states in which to do business.

Forty-second and dropping.

Is that true?

I can't say, but what matters is that this is what the people who operate companies and create wealth think of West Virginia.

You can imagine the top executives of a major company debating where to expand in our region of the country:

North Carolina? Tennessee? Virginia? Indiana? Kentucky?

These are all states in Chief Executive Magazine's Top 20 and all within a few hours' drive of West Virginia.

West Virginia's political leaders have a choice:

They can believe that the consistently poor business rankings are a bum rap and fight back by challenging the source on their conclusions. We might win a few of those.

Who knows? We might even get bumped up from 42nd to 34th.

They can continue to market an inferior product, believing that pricey ad campaigns and better salesmanship trump the quality of what you're trying to sell.

Or our leaders could honestly confront the issues that cause CEOs across the country to turn up their noses at the Mountain State.

Here's a suggestion for the current governor or whoever wins the governorship in October:

Put some miles on the state's airplane by going to see some of the top executives of companies doing business in West Virginia.

Sit down with Bayer Corp. President Greg Babe and listen to what he has to say about West Virginia's tax structure.

Visit with Kevin Crutchfield of Alpha Natural Resources to see what he believes would help our state's legal climate.

Go to the office of United Bank President Richard Adams and pick his brain about the quality of the graduates from our public schools, colleges and universities who apply for jobs with his company.

The key word here is "listen."

The leaders of these businesses and others that operate in our state know better than anyone the challenges of keeping the doors open in West Virginia. Let them make suggestions - not dictate - what West Virginia could do to become less hostile to business.

Then, armed with the information, the governor can aggressively push through the legislature the changes that will at least put our state on the radar of CEOs and give our state a fighting chance.

The other option is to bluster at the bad publicity, retool the state's ad campaign, and drool over the occasional business opening or expansion that just happens to occur.

Kercheval is host of TalkLine, broadcast by the MetroNews Statewide Radio Network from 10 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday.

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