In West Virginia, we often hear it said that we are our own worst enemy. A fatalistic attitude, deeply rooted in our Appalachian culture and fostered by our tumultuous history, tempers our hope for the future.
But we do have good news occasionally. We will not rival Hawaii, Colorado or Minnesota (the happiest states, according to a Gallup Poll), but there is enough to give us some traction as we slog through the constant challenges.
For example, the WVU Bureau of Business and Economic Research reported last week that the state’s economy grew for the fifth consecutive month. “Overall the outlook for the West Virginia economy appears positive, as evidenced by healthy and consistent growth in the Mountain State Business Index,” said director John Deskins.
The release of the economic report card coincided with the start of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s “My State, My Life” campaign to encourage middle and high school students to further their education.
The campaign includes a three-minute, fast-paced, artfully produced video* explaining career opportunities in the Mountain State. The narrator (a young male) skips the usual puffery associated with such messages (“we have the best workforce in America”) and confronts our challenges head-on.
“This is my state, West Virginia. It’s my home. Some say it’s old… some say it’s tired. They tell me there’s nothing here. Some say it’s sad or behind the times. But you know what? They are wrong. This is my state, and this is my life.” You can watch the video here.
The announcer then points out how young people can have good-paying careers in West Virginia in fields such as radiation therapy, aircraft mechanics or registered nursing with just a two-year degree.
“In two years or less, I will have the skills needed to design it, build it, fix it, run it, drive it, and get hired,” the announcer says.
Yes, it’s just a video, but it’s a candid, tailored message that can serve as a starting point to bend the curve of pessimism that discourages young people from pursuing a livelihood in their home state.
And it’s encouraging to know that well-run campaigns do work. The Washington Post reported a few days ago that West Virginia has made more progress than any other state in getting motorists to wear their seat belts through the “Click-it-or-Ticket” program and the legislature’s decision to make failure to buckle-up a primary offense.
Figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that in 2001, just 52 percent of West Virginians buckled up, but by last year we were up to 82 percent. Granted, we had more ground to make up than most states, but it’s still good news.
Seat belts do, in fact, save lives. The Post reports that Census Bureau figures show state highway fatalities have dropped from 411 in 2000 to 332 last year. Additionally, Bob Tipton, director of the governor’s Highway Safety program, reports that serious injures have fallen from nearly 14,000 in 2000 to just under 5,000 last year.
Tomorrow I’ll pick up again on the myriad challenges we face, but today let’s lean into the wind and keep pushing forward.
(*Editor’s note: The “My State, My Life” video was produced by Pikewood Creative, a division of West Virginia Radio Corporation, for the Governor’s Workforce Planning Council.)