The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

August 4, 2013

Business summit attracting more than 600, so far

By Mannix Porterfield
Register-Herald Reporter

— Growing concerns over America’s anemic economy and an upsurge in membership could translate into a record turnout this month at the annual business summit of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce.

Just weeks before the Aug. 28-30 event at The Greenbrier, more than 600 people have registered, suggesting an attendance record is in the offing.

“Could be,” says Chamber President Steve Roberts. “It’s sort of on track to be.”

Roberts has lined up a wide spectrum of speakers from the business and political world to discuss a number of topics, from jobs creation to government regulations to education needs.

“Our organization keeps getting bigger,” Roberts said. “There continues to be a lot of interest and support for our message, which I think is a well-thought-through message. People can have differing opinions about a lot of things, but at the end of the day, we’ve got to figure out a way to make jobs for working families in West Virginia.”

Put simply, he says, without a job, “you’ve got a bigger problem than anything else.”

“We’ve not been too hesitant to point out where we think some of our public officials have gone wrong and led us into a ditch,” the Chamber president said.

“On the other hand, to maybe demonstrate balance here, we also get accused of being too positive about West Virginia sometimes. What we try to do is be realistic. When we do something good or find out something is working, we try to point to that and say, ‘Here’s something good about West Virginia and here’s something that works.’ When we identify a flat tire, we say, ‘Let’s stop and fix it.’”

Roberts said a key topic will be environmental issues and the regulations the Chamber feels impede business growth, along with education and the need to improve how children learn.

“We’re last in the nation in workforce participation,” he said. “And we’re last in the nation in the percentage of our population that actually goes to work every day.”

Nationally, the jobless rate has been pegged at 7.6 percent, but if you count the people working when President Obama came to power, the rate actually is 8.6 percent, Roberts said.

Nor does the official figure distinguish between full- and part-time jobs, he pointed out.

“Almost all of the jobs we’ve been creating are part-time,” Roberts said. “We attribute that to the fear that businesses have about trying to comply with Obamacare, and because there’s a penalty for getting your business over 50 employees, and a penalty for having your employees work more than 30 hours a week. We’ve said all along we’re not opposed to finding better solutions for how we handle health care. But we don’t think this bill is the right way to go.”

Roberts says some parts of the controversial legislation are workable, “but there is a lot that is wrong with it.”

During the three-day summit, Chamber members will hear presentations by a number of luminaries, among them Jon Huntsman, former Utah governor and one-time ambassador to China, and West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com