At age 11, Noah Aliff knows the importance of a diversified economy.
When a region is dependent on one industry and it dies out, the area needs to find another revenue source, he explained.
So, when the Crescent Elementary School 5th-grader needed a topic for a social studies project, he looked around, observed this region suffering from a declining coal industry and knew immediately what he was going to investigate.
Weeks later, after a number of library visits and telephone calls to local and state offices, Noah's social studies project outlined how the fall of coal is leading to the rise of regional tourism.
Although Noah doesn't realize it, he is witnessing the effect that macroeconomics have on an economy. "I learned that when coal dies, that other businesses are also suffering," said Noah, the grandson of two coal miners.
He was awed by how economics are interlinked, how spending a portion of a paycheck at the local grocery store keeps people employed and allows them eat at a restaurant, he said.
Noah's display board was filled with pie charts, maps and graphs of West Virginia's economy. His presentation so impressed local judges, he won the county-wide social studies fair recently. Last weekend, he placed third in the regional fair.
At the regional competition he said, "Since the coal mines are shutting down, we need a new source of revenue for southern West Virginia. I hope tourism will help give people a new job if they lose their mining job."
The former and latter are true. Within the last week, Nicholas County had to eliminate two dozen jobs and slash remaining employees' pay by 20 percent because of a $1.4 million loss in coal severance taxes. Stories of hardship stemming from the decline in coal are common. Meanwhile, tax officials in Charleston are waiting on data from the re-benchmarking of the 2014 coal employment numbers.
Yet, within the next few years, the number of tourism jobs in southern West Virginia is expected to skyrocket as places like the Summit Bechtel Reserve and other destinations attract people from near and far.
To increase tourism, Noah has a suggestion for the state's tourism office. "I think we should market our state regionally and nationally," he advised. "Tourism would be good for creating jobs and bring revenue into our state."
Noah already has one important backer, John Deskins, director of West Virginia University's Bureau of Business and Economic Research and associate professor of economics.
"I am happy for Noah and I am proud to see our young West Virginians working so hard. I cannot be more excited that he devoted his project to such an important and relevant topic for West Virginia — understanding how the coal industry is evolving and how the state may be able to respond to make a stronger economy and give people a better quality of life," Deskins said.
The professor and the 5th grader share a belief that social studies and competitions are important parts of learning.
"I just like to learn things. I like learning history and our state, world and country," he said.
Deskins added, "One key to success in life is a natural inquisitiveness about the world, because that leads to lifelong learning. Competitions like this help to develop that inquisitiveness early, and that is so valuable."
Noah said his social studies teacher, Wendy Sullivan, helped him with some of the technical parts of his presentation, as did employees at the state tax and tourism offices, librarians at the Raleigh County Library and the local and state chambers of commerce.
And mostly, his "Nan."
Theresa Lewis, principal of Crescent Elementary said that Noah, a future litigator, enjoys a good debate and even an occasional argument.
"He can argue a point," she said.
As was showed in his project.
Deskins at WVU said he hopes Noah "chooses to come to WVU and be a Mountaineer in a few years!"
When told that, a wide smile spread across Noah's face, and for a few second, the talkative 11-year-old was silent. Then said, "I just might take him up on that offer."
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org