WASHINGTON – West Virginia’s economy is facing difficult times. There is no question about it.
Our unemployment rate remains well above the national average, our state ranks last nationally in labor force participation with only 53 percent of eligible West Virginians working, layoff notices keep coming and declining coal severance taxes are eroding the state’s budget.
Much of this economic hardship is due to the overregulation that has become a staple of the Obama Administration. Harmful Environmental Protection Agency mandates are stifling our coal and energy sectors, and skyrocketing costs under Obamacare are choking small businesses.
I have fought back against these misguided policies at every turn and will continue to advocate for fewer overreaching regulations, a fresh start on healthcare reform, a simplified tax code, and other commonsense solutions that will enable our economy to grow from the ground up.
By seizing the potential of our vast energy resources, strong work ethic, first-rate institutions and entrepreneurial spirit, we can strengthen our foundation and create new opportunities to move our state forward.
We should start by embracing the success stories that are taking place in West Virginia right now and recreating them across the state.
The governors of West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania recently announced an agreement to work across state lines and turn the Tri-State area into a hub for shale development. If we are truly going to maximize the opportunity presented by shale development, we must work together rather against one another. If Ohio gets a cracker plant, this presents downstream opportunities for West Virginia and vice versa.
Last month, Procter & Gamble broke ground on a manufacturing facility in Berkeley County that will employ 700 full-time workers. The company cited the labor force, low business costs, infrastructure and proximity to East Coast population centers as reasons for choosing to do business in West Virginia.
Let’s tout Procter & Gamble’s decision along with other manufacturing success stories, such as Eagle Manufacturing expanding operations in Wellsburg and the Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Flexible Manufacturing advancing manufacturing in Huntington, and use these stories to draw more companies to West Virginia.
The ground breaking ceremony for expansion of the final stretch of U.S. Route 35 in Putnam and Mason Counties this month marked a critical step forward for one of our most critical highway projects. U.S. Route 35 is an important freight link for trucks transporting goods between the Southeast and the Midwest. We must continue to prioritize investments in infrastructure that will open the door to new opportunities for growth.
Additionally, programs like the HIVE in Beckley and the Launch Lab at West Virginia University are laying the groundwork for tech innovation in the Mountain State. The Launch Lab will help students turn their ideas into products that can be commercialized and the HIVE provides a suite of business services to entrepreneurs in southern West Virginia.
The Appalachian Regional Commission also recently awarded funding to West Virginia for the Entrepreneurial Schools Initiative, which will encourage and help implement entrepreneurship curriculum and activities in public schools. The West Virginia High Technology Consortium Foundation’s INNOVA Technical Assistance and Early Stage Investment Program also received funding to grow entrepreneurial technology firms.
Through programs like this, we can turn West Virginia into a high-tech startup hub.
The Internet has decentralized business and enabled Americans to create startups in all corners of the country. Startups can power our small communities and bring limitless opportunities to the state. As more and more businesses shift online, it is important that we continue to prioritize STEM education in our schools, and help small business adapt.
This summer, a Google-sponsored workshop for small businesses looking to get online attracted more than 60 West Virginia business owners. West Virginia is filled with entrepreneurs who want to turn their good ideas into reality, and we must create an environment where they can do that.
While Internet connectivity is a challenge we face in many areas of the state, I am working to bring affordable broadband services to every home, business and classroom in West Virginia through my Capito Connect Plan. This is no small task, but by forming partnerships between private, local, state and federal organizations we can meet the unique demands of our state.
There is no question that we must keep fighting back against the harmful policies that have hindered our state. However, we also have an obligation to explore new opportunities to grow.
By tapping into the potential of our people, our schools and our strengths we can get our economy moving in the right direction, strengthen the small businesses and vital energy industry that form that backbone of our state, and make West Virginia more competitive than ever before.”
Capito, a Republican, represents West Virginia in the U.S. Senate.