The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia


March 1, 2014

Wear shades

Our Economic Outlook 2014 special report last week brought home our long-held belief that the future of the state is brighter than many people think.

The in-depth look at the present, and predictions for a future for southern West Virginia that is less-dependent on extractive industries, was revealing.

What struck us was a new tone among West Virginia leaders, analysts, and businessmen and businesswomen.

Instead of complaining about the decline of coal and the resulting pain that has caused us, it was refreshing to read about the new ideas and innovative initiatives that are blossoming in our part of the state.

As Rep. Nick Rahall, D-Raleigh, put it, energy fields such as coal and natural gas will continue to play a role in our economy. But tourism, timbering, agriculture, manufacturing, technology and health care will all play increasingly bigger roles in adding good jobs to the region.

Manufacturing has never been as big in West Virginia as in some other states. But the Bureau for Business and Economic Research at West Virginia University notes that there are pockets of prosperity across the state in this sector.

And the analysts with the BBER say the chemicals industry, fabricated metals, wood products, transportation equipment and iron and steel make up 63 percent of the state’s manufacturing sector at present. Despite the national economic downturn, overall manufacturing employment in the state has remained stable.

That’s a good sign. And we think manufacturing will be a component in diversifying the state’s economy, particularly in chemicals processing of components found in natural gas extracted from the state’s shale formations.

There are other possibilities as well. The Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve pumped $170 million into the state’s economy during the construction phase, and another $12 million was added to the local economy during the 2013 national Jamboree.

But leaders at The Summit have bigger plans, and will be expanding programs and facilities to draw even more Scouts and families to Fayette County and the region.

Tourism is becoming increasingly important to our economic well-being.

Greenbrier County is building a tourism powerhouse, centered around the world-class The Greenbrier resort.

In Wyoming County, the Hatfield-McCoy Trail has possibilities that are still emerging, and when the Coalfields Expressway is completed, a vibrant new tourism industry is expected to flourish.

In Summers County, it is a wealth of water resources that have local leaders planning for a better future.

The New, Greenbrier and Bluestone National Scenic Rivers, as well as Bluestone Lake, are correctly seen as underdeveloped treasures. Plans are under way to find ways to improve and market these natural assets.

Raleigh County is becoming an even bigger retail center for southern West Virginia, and its growing medical and hospital sector is attracting more interest and investment as Beckley becomes a crossroads for some of the best medical care in the region.

In Monroe County, long dependent on tourism and agriculture, leaders with vision are looking beyond the past to envision new manufacturing entities, like United Technologies Corp., which produces a broad range of high-tech products and services. Or M-Rock, an innovator in the stone manufacturing industry.

What really struck us about our economic outlook project was the number of new ideas that are coming from leaders and from residents of communities in southern West Virginia.

For too long this innovative thinking was missing.

Any big ideas were dismissed by many people as being just dreams.

We find it heartening, as necessary as it may have been, in 2014 we’re past the dreaming stage.

What we’re seeing is a new reality, one that is based on a hard-headed, objective assessment of our assets, our needs, our limitations, and most importantly our potential in southern West Virginia.

It’s only when you start looking at things in new ways that you start to see all the possibilities.

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