Every day, the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce works to make West Virginia a better place to do business by giving private-sector employers a voice in state politics and protecting business interests before regulatory bodies, the Legislature, and the courts.

CHAMBER SPEAKS

Wesleyan Business Survey Shows Workforce Strengths, Weaknesses

By: Cathy Bonnstetter, for The State Journal

Business owners in West Virginia say they believe the state’s workforce is more than prepared to bring ethics and integrity, interpersonal skills and teamwork, along with the capacity for physical labor, to their jobs.

However, when it comes to strategic planning, innovation, marketing, analytic skills or global, international experience, their employees could use additional training, according to results from a statewide survey designed by three West Virginia Wesleyan business professors.

The professors designed the survey to ensure that their college’s business school graduates have the skills and mindset to improve the state’s business climate.

The electronic survey was designed by Susan Aloi, Ph.D., director of the school of business and associate professor of business at Wesleyan; Tracie Dodson, Ph.D., associate professor of business; and Kelly Hughes Sharp, assistant professor of business and director of the MBA program at Wesleyan. The group sent the survey to business owners who were members of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, as well as other business groups.

“We were hearing all these horrible things about the West Virginia economy and the need to diversify and get other businesses to come in,” Aloi said. “What if new businesses need employees with different abilities? We needed to look at current data concerning this.”

The professors first turned to the National Bureau of Labor Statistics, but they noted the statistics, although interesting, are regional.

“At Wesleyan, we want to prepare our students for success anywhere,” she said. “However, we have a commitment to the state and region. We wanted something more local in focus.”

West Virginia Chamber of Commerce President Steve Roberts became involved in the process to identify the majority of the businesses statewide, and the Chamber sent the survey to its 5,000 members.

The survey was open for responses from Nov. 7 through Jan. 15, and 215 businesses responded.

“We were eager to jump on this,” Roberts said. “We want to be aware of what employers are saying their needs and concerns are, particularly when it comes to whom they want to hire.”

Business owners also were asked what skills they felt were important for success. The top response was interpersonal skills, followed by problem solving and critical thinking, teamwork, ethics and integrity, verbal communication and professionalism.

The survey also asked business owners how they see the roles of businesses in their communities. Nearly 80 percent of the respondents said businesses should take the lead in collaborating with others to improve the communities in which they operate. Very few respondents said business has no role except to maximize the profit for the owners.

The survey also asked business owners what types of businesses the state needs to court to improve the economy. Business owners said above all, manufacturing, followed by health care, energy and hospitality and tourism.

“I think what surprised me most about these responses was the lack of innovation or new industries,” Aloi said. “What I’ve heard is that it will take a lot of small business solutions, not one big one, to come in and save us. That is what concerned us as far as the level or preparation of future workers.”

Roberts says he understands why manufacturing ranked No. 1.

“States around us have had growth in manufacturing jobs,” he said. “Business people, in particular, realize this. Kentucky has seen a doubling in manufacturing over the past 25 years. Also, we have a history of making things in this state.”

The study divided industry into the following categories: Professional and business services; manufacturing; health services; and leisure and hospitality. Aloi said the survey also added nonprofits to the mix. The fewest responses, 10, came from the Eastern Panhandle.

Aloi said the collegiate team has sent the survey results to the Chamber and other businesses that requested them. In addition, business professors at Wesleyan are using the data.

“We are talking about decisions we need to make with our curriculum — not a huge overhaul, but looking at learning outcomes,” she said. “We are using the data to be sure we are on the right track.”

Roberts said he sees the survey as a great first step.

“There is something to be said for recognizing a problem,” he said. “In West Virginia, we do a pretty good job saying everything’s fine when it isn’t. In the last 50 years, we are the only state to see a population decrease, so clearly, not everyone likes it the way it is.

“We need to go after business leaders’ opinions more often,” Roberts added. “We need to go after them and find out what they think. I applaud Wesleyan for having the good sense to ask.”


Steve Roberts: West Virginia saw job growth in 2016 (Daily Mail)

 

The U.S. Department of Labor reports that in 2016, West Virginia added 7,000 new jobs to its overall economy.

This net gain in employment reverses a multi-year trend and indicates an improving jobs outlook in the mountain state.

Most job creation comes from existing business. As West Virginia’s largest business advocacy and member-supported network, the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce has the unique ability to hear from employers who love West Virginia and want the opportunity to grow and prosper here.

To assist our state’s continued recovery, the West Virginia Chamber has a jobs plan for the state’s future. We support more legislative action to continue fueling job growth in 2017.

Our ideas include:

Energy exploration and production: The world needs our fuel, plain and simple. Nearly 70 percent of U.S. electricity is produced by natural gas and coal.

Technology, research and infrastructure are needed to assure the viability of these resources. West Virginia competes with states that have lower taxes and less burdensome regulatory overhead.

Reducing taxes and regulations will encourage additional production of natural resources by allowing West Virginia to compete with lower-cost states. Additionally, adding pipeline infrastructure to facilitate the export of West Virginia natural gas will increase severance tax collections by more than $100 million annually. Those revenues will go far to repair our ailing finances.

Manufacturing: Manufacturers tell us West Virginia’s tax structure impedes job creation. The tax on equipment and inventory, which is not charged in most states, is identified as the No. 1 tax problem hindering manufacturers.

Regulations that impede investment and growth must be reviewed and modified. Manufacturers say replacing an aging workforce with competent, well-trained and drug-free new workers is a must for the 21st century workplace.

Banking and insurance: States in our region are attracting back office jobs from banks and insurance companies. Our low commercial occupancy costs, competitive wages and good location can make us a center of banking, insurance and credit company support jobs. West Virginia is already experiencing some success in attracting these jobs. Our community and technical colleges can readily train the needed additional workers.

Department of Defense contracting: West Virginia is 50th in the nation in sales to the U.S. Department of Defense. The Pentagon is the largest purchaser of goods and technical services on Earth. Let’s further develop technology jobs for our nation’s military needs. West Virginia is ideally located to supply America’s defense contracts.

Tourism and state image: Regrettably, West Virginia’s image suffers in the national media. It will take a real campaign with substantial funding to change national perceptions.

We have a wonderful story to tell and unparalleled beauty and attractions. Let’s recommit ourselves to a bigger, better message and to training a workforce for the hospitality and tourism industries.

Small business and entrepreneurs: Long identified as the engine of job creation, small business needs well-prepared, drug-free workers, high-speed internet and freedom from overly burdensome paperwork. Businesses also require access to capital and customers.

Small businesses welcome all customers and seek a welcoming and inclusive business environment and encourage diversity among customers and workers.

Health care and education: With so many people living in close proximity to our state, continuing to attract patients to world class health facilities is a must. Health providers demand good schools and a culture of innovation and acceptance in our communities. We must also redouble our efforts to bring more local control and freedom of choice in education to our state’s communities. States that lead in education results provide school choice for students and encourage local control of education policy. A one-size-fits-all, top-down system of education belongs to the past and will not serve the needs of students in the 21st century.

Universities and research: Universities attract talent. Harnessing the innovation and horsepower of faculty and students is a must. Surrounding states have created research parks and innovation zones with great success. West Virginia must invest in this proven vehicle for innovation and job creation.

Our community and technical colleges must focus on becoming engines of job creation. Too few West Virginia students can afford our technical and community colleges. Employers are seeking skilled, trained workers right now. Tax credits to employers who pay for worker training should be encouraged.

More collaboration and coordination is necessary between employers and educators, and students need affordable school-to-work options.

The West Virginia Chamber believes strongly in West Virginia’s future. We see opportunity on the horizon. New laws are creating more opportunity.

As the 2017 legislative session begins, let’s urge our Legislature and governor to keep enacting laws that put our people back to work.

Steve Roberts is president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce.

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