CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A group of West Virginia senators is teaming up to help revitalize the southern part of the state.
Senate President Jeff Kessler (D-Marshall) announced the formation of the SCORE initiative Thursday at the State Capitol. It stands for Southern Coalfields Organizing and Revitalizing the Economy.
The goal is to help promote growth in an area that’s seen big job losses and thousands of residents moving away in the last 30 years.
“I want to make sure we’re being proactive and looking at opportunities as we move forward as a state,” said Kessler.
The task force is made up of thirteen senators, both Republicans and Democrats, from Randolph County to Mingo County. Over the next two months they’ll hold a series of listening sessions, talking to their constituents, individuals and business owners, to hear what they have to say — good and bad — about the region and what needs to be improved.
“We’ve got to find a way to be smarter, quicker and better than everybody else,” said SCORE Co-Chairman Senator Art Kirkendoll of Logan County. “We’ll really do a good job once we listen and bring the recommendations back to our legislative bodies.”
In fact, Kessler said he hopes to use the information from the listening session to offer up legislation in the upcoming session. He said with the gridlock in Washington, D.C., West Virginia is going to have fend for itself.
“As a state I don’t think we can sit back and watch it unravel in Washington. We need to see what we can do, as state legislators, representing our communities to try and bring economic development and diversity and initiative back to our region and create jobs and opportunities for our people,” explained Kessler.
One big push will be to bring manufacturing back to the southern part of the state. That’s been a problem in the past because there was no flat land for sale. Boone County Senator Ron Stollings says that’s not the case anymore with dozens of coal removal sites ready for the taking.
“We are topographically challenged as we all know. Now we have these vast areas of land that are now ripe for development. Post-mine land use, I think, is really going to be our ticket to diversification,” said Stollings.
The task force also wants to focus on increasing tourism, providing better healthcare and education, expanding agribusiness and broadband access and supporting clean coal research.
Kessler is confident the task force can help bring about a rebirth in southern West Virginia.