Business' big mouth

by The West Virginia Record |
Dec. 8, 2006, 4:50am

State Senators Sam Cann and Brooks McCabe wish our state's private employers would just shut up about West Virginia's woeful business climate. The duo's co-analysis: talking about "bad things" won't help their cause.

Taken as a mere suggestion or overt threat, the implication that free and open debate is, in fact, harmful seems more at home in dictatorial Russia or communist China than Charleston, U.S.A.

On the senators' broader political intentions, we won't jump to conclusions. But given the obvious sincerity of their recent statements ("everybody is working as hard as they can"), it's hard to ignore a more frightful reality. These two men, esteemed members of a state commission charged with making the Mountain State attractive to business, are both grossly out-of-touch with the essence of economic growth in 21st Century America.

It's hard to craft solutions when you cannot grasp the problems.

Stimulating growth in West Virginia starts with locking hard on a tangible target. What exactly is our state after when its leaders openly lust for "business?"

The real answer isn't "companies" or "jobs." Those come later.

What comes first is "investment." Risk capital. Money. Green. Sent West Virginia's way by a return-hunting manager charged with making your the S&P 500 -- and your 401K -- grow. That's what those highway signs are really shilling for.

The senators assert West Virginia's already making good progress on economic issues. But this is not and will never be their call to make. Like most politicians, they confuse political progress -- building consensus among elected officials -- with actual progress, aka attracting bona fide investors to our state.

The Money doesn't care whether there's "bipartisan" support for some compromise bill to nudge the needle. It wants to know whether West Virginia is worthy of their financial bet.

Does the upside of starting or expanding a business here justify the potential downside? Compared with other states, each of which is, too, vying hard for investment, is ours a risk worth taking?

Every state is pleading, so the exercise becomes more a process of elimination than anything else. Like judges at a beauty pageant, investors look first for reasons to rule you out.

Herein lies the rub for West Virginia.

Intransigent unions are a turnoff. Crusading state attorneys general are a turnoff. Statist overregulation -- like councils charged with setting drug price controls -- are a turnoff. And most of all, an overly-litigious, plaintiff-friendly court system is a turnoff.

To investors, these are self-evident truths. They're the facts. Indisputable. Undebatable.

Yet always -- if you're into results and not just appearances -- worth debating.

More News