The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

May 28, 2014

What's next, W.Va.?


The Register-Herald

— A revised forecast for West Virginia’s population shows the state will begin losing people, not in 2025, but as early as two years from now.

About as many folks will be leaving our state as moving in, leaving net migration the same. The problem, according to researchers at the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at West Virginia University, is that births will not keep up with deaths among state residents.

West Virginia’s population is projected to drop by about 19,500 people between 2010 and 2030, which represents just over 1 percent of the population.

Almost all other states anticipate population growth over this period.

“It certainly could be a lot worse than that,” said the BBER’s director, John Deskins. “But that’s still not indicative of a strong, healthy economy. To be talking about any population decline is not a good sign in terms of judging economic performance.”

“Things could be worse” is an old standby phrase for us in West Virginia, and provides some people a measure of consolation.

Fortunately, that attitude isn’t good enough for other West Virginians. A new initiative called What’s Next, West Virginia? could go a long way in reversing that anticipated population decline.

What’s Next, West Virginia? is a project with no political affiliations and no illusions about how to rebuild our state’s economy.

“The big underlying question here is: ‘How can we as West Virginians play an active role in writing our own economic future?’” said Catherine Moore, the Appalachian Transition Fellow assisting with the initiative. “What can we do as citizens to create the future that we want for ourselves and for our children?”

The statewide initiative is designed to provide a platform to encourage community-based conversations about our state’s future and to help communities develop action plans based on their own ideas for building stronger local communities.

The initiative is being organized by a broad coalition of partners, including nonprofit, philanthropic, governmental, educational and faith-based organizations

“This really is an initiative where every single person is not just welcome, but they’re needed,” project director Betty Knighton told The Register-Herald.

What makes What’s Next, West Virginia? unique in our minds is that this is a grassroots effort, by West Virginians and for West Virginians.

Also, we’re impressed by real-world plans on how to succeed, starting off with workshops for those wishing to help start and nurture conversations within their community, as well as providing assistance on how to build local teams.

Which brings us back to that population decline.

The only way to prevent that is to create new and good jobs, and that means diversifying our economy. Creating a business climate that will make that happen will go far in ensuring West Virginia adds population by 2030, or even by 2050.

Improving the economic climate in the state, as recent history has shown, can’t be done by Washington. It can’t be accomplished  by Wall Street.

It has to be done by West Virginians, for West Virginians.

For those interested in What’s Next, West Virginia?, visit the website whatsnextwv.org and sign up under the “How do I get involved?” tab, e-mail whatsnextwv@wvciviclife.org or call 304-344-3430.

Anybody willing to put in the time to learn how to organize local discussions can register for the Civic Life Institute, slated for June 4-5 in Charleston, at wvciviclife.org.