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.
New Jobs for the New Year
By: Steve Roberts
As a new year begins, attention is correctly turning to priorities for our state and nation.
Job creation, economic development and improved education results for our children should be the highest priorities of West Virginia leaders as 2017 begins.
The Daily Mail Opinion page regularly points to the importance of a sound economy. As recently as Dec. 23, a Daily Mail editorial outlined a vision for job creation in our state (Are West Virginians done leaving home for work?).
Businesses already located in West Virginia are the leading creators of new jobs. Experts widely agree that business is the engine of job growth and economic development in West Virginia and throughout the United States.
In our state, most businesses are small and operate with slim margins and little room for error. Larger businesses must be constantly concerned about their ability to operate in West Virginia in the face of rising costs and more competition for customers.
The past several years have been especially difficult for many businesses. It is unfortunate that more businesses have closed than opened in the United States during the past eight years.
One result of fewer business startups is fewer available jobs, especially for entry level work. As 2016 ends, the workforce participation rate, defined as the number of working age people actually employed, has fallen to levels not seen in our country in forty years.
And our state is at the bottom of the list. West Virginia is 50th in the level of participation by working age adults in the workforce.
The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce has long believed that business owners and managers know best what will help them to remain open and to employ our West Virginia workers. Business leaders are well positioned to offer suggestions about what they need to remain open and grow in West Virginia.
As elected officials prepare to lead in 2017 and beyond, they could do the economy and workers a great favor by listening to the businessmen and women who live right here in our communities.
Our small business neighbors tell us they need to live in a state that supports them and encourages an entrepreneurial spirit. They are looking for a platform that values bold initiative, rewards investment, hard work, perseverance and pluck.
Specifically, they need fair taxes that allow and encourage reinvestment and growth. They must have a judiciary rooted in the notion of fundamental fairness and adherence to uniform interpretation of the law.
They require state and federal rules that make sense and that do not seek to punish the fair-minded.
Education and the workforce readiness of our graduates is key. Many experts say that businesses will seek those locations that provide a capable, well-trained, drug-free workforce.
In West Virginia, we are paying the price for taking too much for granted. The heavy hand of regulations and high cost of government services and, in some cases, overreach of the courts against business, have sent the wrong message.
Additionally, the high cost and burdens of interpreting and complying with federal mandates such as the Affordable Care Act, the Clean Power Plan and the Dodd/Frank Act have added to the challenges of job creation.
The consequences of bad policies are being paid most dearly by our hard working West Virginia families.
Those communities around our nation that are seeing new businesses and job growth have listened to employers. They have made adjustments to their laws and regulations. They have sought to put pro-growth leaders into their most important offices. They have insisted on fair, stable and predictable laws and courts that are even-handed and fair in the dispensation of justice.
The West Virginia Legislature began listening to the needs of business two years ago and embarked on significant changes that will put us in a better competitive position in the future.
Our state’s voters reaffirmed the work of the Legislature by returning even more pro-jobs legislators to the Capitol in the 2016 elections.
There is much to be done before our state regains parity in its job creation climate. But the hard work has begun and because voters support job creation and economic progress, our state can and will turn the corner.
The member businesses of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce employ over half of our state’s workers. Our members have consistently said that they will expand and grow if given the opportunity.
As 2017 begins, we urge lawmakers and concerned citizens to listen to the voices of your small business neighbors and to continue enacting policies that will drive job growth, education improvement and a better future for all West Virginians.
Steve Roberts is president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, the voice of business in West Virginia.