Decanio

By ROGER DECANIO

CHARLESTON -- Regarding Forbes magazine's recent report of West Virginia's business climate ranked 50th, there is evidence to the contrary. There are several studies that indicate West Virginia has a better climate than Forbes claims.

According to the 2005 Miliken Institute Cost of Doing Business Index, West Virginia was the 10th least expensive state in the country for doing business. We are 13 percent below the national average.

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, the number of small businesses in West Virginia increased from 118,700 in 2003 to 123,300 in 2005 (see link here). Moreover, more than 11,000 new jobs were created in West Virginia between December 2004 and 2005. We have seen evidence of growth through the expansion of the Toyota plant, the construction of the new Hino Motors truck plant in Wood County. Lockheed Martin opened the Biometric Experimentation and Advanced Concepts (BEACON) center in White Hall at West Virginia University, to serve as a collaborative center for the corporation, its customers, academia and other industry partners to develop integrated biometrics solutions. This does not sound like news from the last among states in business climate. We are better than that. In fact, we are "almost heaven." We have beautiful mountains to hike, bike and ski. We have the best white water rafting and rock climbing anywhere right at our doorstep. This is a great place to do business. We also have the best workforce because West Virginians have a great work ethic.

The Forbes study does, however, underscore what we, as a state, need to do together in educating our workforce for the new technological demands of our economy. We need to invest more on tuition assistance in return for a promise to stay in West Virginia. This will entice more students to take advantage of higher education in colleges and community colleges. Let's strengthen the Promise Scholarship Program that Gov. Bob Wise started by making higher education more affordable or even free. We can offer every student with certain GPA tuition in areas that will develop future economic growth such as science, computer sciences, medicine, mathematics, engineering, education and other areas of our economy that we will need for the 21st century. We also need to shore up our teacher salaries to retain and attract more teachers. This plan is a gateway to the future.

This push for a more educated workforce can spark economic development. The high-paying jobs of tomorrow are in high technology and biotechnology and that's where we ought to be focusing a greater share of our precious development dollars. With WVU and Marshall University expanding in the Kanawha Valley, we should invest in university research and development programs to develop high technology and intellectual property, and partner with the private sector to help develop start-up companies. This private-public partnership will spark investment in the high-tech area and job growth. We need better ways to develop coal-burning technologies. We need to develop new hi-tech products that we can manufacture in West Virginia. The Silicon Valley got its start this way. Other states such as Michigan are also implementing a similar plan. Initiatives like Lockheed's biometrics laboratory is what we need more of in West Virginia. This combined approach of a strong push for education expansion and business recruitment is what West Virginia needs to attract more business and improve our competitiveness.

Yes, we can do better, and we have worked hard to do so, but West Virginia is getting treatment that is unwarranted and unsupported. Truth is, our state does not get the positive credit that it is due.

Decanio is a Charleston lawyer and a Democratic candidate for the House of Delegates in Kanawha County's 30th District.

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