CHARLESTON, W.Va. — “West Virginia needs help in a substantial way” in the view of Woody Thrasher, the incoming state commerce secretary, who said that’s why he’s leaving the private sector to join the administration of Governor-elect Jim Justice heading into the New Year.
“I certainly wouldn’t have taken this position unless I felt that something significant could be accomplished,” Thrasher said during an appearance on Wednesday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”
Thrasher founded The Thrasher Group in Harrison County, an engineering and architectural firm that now employs nearly 400 people in multiple states, with his father in 1983.
He’s also managing partner of White Oaks Business Park in Bridgeport and chair of West Virginia University’s Alumni Association.
Instead of heading to Orlando, Florida on Wednesday, though, to see the Mountaineers take on Miami Hurricanes in the Russell Athletic Bowl at Camping World Stadium, Thrasher was going to Charleston to get to work.
“West Virginia, I don’t think, is going to be successful through home runs. I think it’s going to be successful through a number of singles: homegrown businesses, statewide businesses, new startups,” Thrasher said.
State government, according to Thrasher, should help facilitate such “singles.”
He was quick to label the challenges West Virginia is facing as “significant” with slumped energy prices, workforce issues, needs for investments in infrastructure, including broadband, and “ready site” limits in “topographically challenged” terrain.
Thrasher said he believes the Mountain State also has a self-esteem problem.
“West Virginians don’t think big enough,” he told Hoppy Kercheval.
Thrasher did not rule out a “tweaking” of the tax code ahead of the start of a next fiscal year in July in which the projected budget shortfall is already $400 million.
“We’ve got to find a way to pay these bills and we’ve got to find a way to stimulate the economy and you can’t do it with good thoughts, you have to do with it some type of action,” Thrasher said.
“Clearly, the tax structure is going to need to be looked at. There may be a little pain before we get the reward for it, but I think that makes total sense.”
Going forward, Thrasher said those in the Justice Administration would have to stay focused on one question: What do we need to do to create jobs?
“There’s a huge variety of things that we can work on, but if you keep that singular focus — significant, meaningful jobs — I think all kinds of opportunities sort of show themselves,” he said.
“He’s been on my mind for commerce secretary for a while because he understands what it takes to diversify West Virginia’s economy,” Justice said of Thrasher in a Tuesday statement announcing Thrasher’s selection.
“Woody totally shares my vision that what we need is a better marketing and economic opportunity surrounded by jobs, jobs, jobs for the people of West Virginia.”
“I believe West Virginia has great potential that’s unrealized,” Thrasher said. “I want my kids to be able to stay here. I want other people’s kids to be able to stay here and that’s going to take some effort, so I am genuinely enthused about it.”
Thrasher will replace Keith Burdette, current West Virginia commerce secretary and executive director of the West Virginia Development Office, who Governor Earl Ray Tomblin appointed in Dec. 2010.
Justice’s Inauguration Day is Jan. 16, 2017.