CHARLESTON – After a CNBC survey ranked West Virginia 48th among top states for business, Republicans quickly used the results as ammunition against Democrats, particularly Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.
The CNBC study ranked the Mountain State's workforce as the worst among the 50 states, citing a lack of sufficient education and the presence of pro-union policies. The state was listed 44th or lower in categories such as infrastructure & transportation, technology, business friendliness and access to capital.
"Another year, another survey, another terrible result," West Virginia Republican Party Chairman Conrad Lucas said. "Other states change their business climate, fix their courts, cut taxes and welcome business.
"Many others my age have moved to those states while our population shrinks and our workforce participation rate is America's worst.
"These studies aren't just sad figures to be quoted. They represent the real harm that failed Democratic policies inflict on West Virginia families. Men and women struggle to put food on their tables and clothe their children due to the lack of jobs and growth. "These miserable results fall firmly in the lap of this Governor and his non-existant plan."
Citing Tomblin's 38 years in state government, Lucas said the governor "owes us an explanation and an apology for the state of our state."
"Earl Ray continues to mislead us on all his signs," Lucas said. "His slogan should clearly be 'Less Jobs, Fewer Taxpayers.' That's the West Virginia he's created as a career politician, and now he's brought in his friend Barack Obama to help wreck our state budget with 'Obamacare' and end coal forever."
Bill Maloney, Tomblin's Republican opponent in this fall's general election, noted West Virginia fell two spots from last year's CNBC rankings. He also noted recent unemployment reports reveal that West Virginia has experienced four consecutive months of job losses. He also noted recent layoff announcements of Bayer CropScience, CONSOL and Arch Coal.
"As someone who started and built a successful business right here in West Virginia, I know all too well the difficulties of conducting business in this state," Maloney said in a statement. "I worked hard to build my business and create West Virginia jobs, but all too often I encountered obstacles created by the government.
"Under the lack of leadership of Earl Ray Tomblin, West Virginia continues to lose good-paying jobs because of our poor business climate. While our elected officials like Barack Obama and Earl Ray Tomblin claim that the 'private sector is doing just fine' and that we are on the 'right economic path', surveys like this and news of more layoffs throughout our state tell a different story.
Maloney said Tomblin "has done virtually nothing to create jobs and has no specific plan for job creation."
"Earl Ray Tomblin must be living in the dark to think that we are on the 'right economic path', and this survey confirms that the Obama-Tomblin economy isn't working for West Virginia, as jobs continue to be lost," he said. "I have a plan to encourage economic growth and create jobs by reforming our tax code, cleaning up our courts, and having a world-class education system in order to create a brighter future for West Virginia."
A spokesman for Tomblin's campaign turned the tables on Maloney.
"Bill Maloney will do and say anything to cover up the fact that he allowed West Virginia jobs to move to Pennsylvania, incorporated his West Virginia-based business in Delaware to avoid taxes and has no plans for our state," Chris Stadelman said Thursday. "The truth is that objective measures show our state to be one of the best managed in the country, and Earl Ray Tomblin has led the way on that fiscal responsibility.
"Governor Tomblin has cut taxes across the board to help businesses create jobs, and he will continue to fight against the EPA and for our coal industry."
Meanwhile, the president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce said the troubles that face West Virginia are bigger than one person.
"We consistently rank lower than we want to in this studies," Steve Roberts said Thursday. "It doesn't matter what study it is. West Virginia's business climate is not favorably viewed compared to other states, particularly some of our neighboring states. There's no question we need additional legal reforms, education reforms and fixes to the long-term indebtedness of the state.
"We still have work to do. In the area of tax, we've made progress, but still have work to do. We have cut our corporate net income tax rates. We are eliminating the business franchise tax. And we've made enormous changes to the Workers' Compensation program, where costs are down as much as 50 percent."
On the legal reform front, Roberts said the recent state Supreme Court revision to the rules of appellate procedure was progress.
He said changes still need to be made to "significantly limit some combination of punitive damages, joint and several liability and collateral source rules.
"People say that would be the holy grail of tort reform," Roberts said. "I say 46 states already have done it."
Roberts also said mining and gas jobs get a lot of attention in West Virginia, but he said the loss of manufacturing jobs has had a major impact on the state.
"We talk a lot about those mining and gas jobs, and mining jobs are under attack from federal regulatory bodies," he said. "But manufacturing has been under attack for decades. In 1980, West Virginia had about 130,000 manufacturing jobs. Now, that number is less than 49,000.
"Combine that with the fact that in 1980, West Virginia had 55,000 coal employees compared to about 20,000 in 2006. It's like trying to drive a car with three wheels.
"In West Virginia, we don't have huge banking headquarters. We don't have huge insurance headquarters. What we have are the kinds of jobs that working people are used to doing. But construction jobs are down, too. And the gas industry, even with Marcellus Shale, can't sustain it."
Roberts said the problem lies in "a series of unfortunate events" that, over the years, have worked to the state's disadvantage.
"It's a much more complicated picture than one that can be addressed in just a soundbite," he said. "If I could wave a wand and fix it all, you bet I would.
"But this is the result of year and years and years in which we've not said we have to change our economic future and education future. And they co-exist. It's symbiotic. We have to do both."