Cohen

BY STEVE COHEN

CHARLESTON -- West Virginia is losing her children to the American Dream, according to well-known demographics expert William H. Frey.

His analysis of how the U.S. population is shifting can be explained simply, he says: we are "chasing the American Dream."

That may account for his finding that West Virginia is one of just five states with an out-migration of people under-35.

Is there no dream to be fulfilled in West Virginia? A recent survey in Forbes Magazine could well lead one to that conclusion. It placed West Virginia 49th in its ranking of the best states in which to do business. Forbes explicitly stated that if not for Hurricane Katrina, West Virginia may just be dead last.

In Forbes' calculations, while tax rates are a leading measurement, litigation costs largely determine where employers choose to create jobs. Lawsuits are a quarter trillion-dollar industry in the U.S. and are a major reason why so many jobs leave the country altogether.

Interestingly in Forbes' survey, our next door neighbor, Virginia, is rated as the very best state in which to do business. Forbes specifically refers to the legal climate in Virginia as "solid."

The gaping disparity between the two adjoining states was illustrated in a recent decision by the West Virginia Supreme Court, in which a worker who lived in Virginia and worked in Virginia and was injured on the job in Virginia was allowed to file a lawsuit over the injury in West Virginia.

The court's ruling threw out our state's legal protections against opportunistic out-of-state lawsuits coming into West Virginia and effectively opened the f loodgates to personal injury lawyer greed in West Virginia.

Sadly, Supreme Court Justice Elliot "Spike" Maynard was slapped down with his contention that West Virginians "pay for our courts" and that we don't need outsiders "abusing" our legal system. West Virginia is an attractive destination for visitors, but litigation tourism certainly stretches the intent of our state's well-known "Wild, Wonderful" slogan.

How many more under-35's will leave West Virginia? When will our state's leaders be shamed into action by a national ranking of 49? Or will the governor and legislature cling to the silver lining of those Katrina storm clouds that spared West Virginia from earning an even more disgraceful dead-last ranking?

Surely, William Frey's interpretation of population trends isn't lost on our elected officials. People are leaving West Virginia because a brighter future is elsewhere. And according to Forbes Magazine, the best future is just a footstep away in Virginia.

We need to stop the exodus of our best and brightest by making our state a fertile ground for employers to create jobs and families to find well-paying employment. West Virginians shouldn't have to dream about the American Dream -– we deserve a chance to live the American Dream, too.

Cohen is executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, a non-profit citizen watchdog group interested in a variety of civil justice issues. For more information about CALA, go to www.WVJusticeWatch.org or write to P.O. Box 127, Charleston, WV 25321.

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