CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Commerce Secretary is encouraging legislators to invest in tools to boost economic development in West Virginia.
Speaking on Monday to lawmakers during interim meetings, Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher said an additional $35 million would be a worthwhile investment to market West Virginia and to prepare sites for development.
“We need to rebrand the state and talk about the wonderful place we are to live and work,” Thrasher told lawmakers in the House of Delegates chamber. “We’re doing our part across the board to bring it in. But please do not leave us without the wherewithal to really change what we need.
“We will come back next year and show you what we did with that money, how many people we hired and what the rate of return is.”
Earlier this year, a similar initiative introduced by Gov. Jim Justice during his State of the State address was called SOS for “Save Our State.” At that point, the amount desired was $105 million.
Now the effort is being called “Invest in West Virginia,” and Thrasher acknowledged the similarities, calling it a matter of semantics.
“At the end of the day we have to infuse money into economic development in West Virginia,” Thrasher said in a brief interview after his presentation to legislators.
“If we just think it’s going to happen in and of itself without the state being an active participant it’s not going to happen, and we’re going to stay exactly where we are, and I’m afraid we’re going to trend even worse. So the fundamental concept is let’s begin to invest in businesses in West Virginia, new and existing.”
Thrasher said he thinks $35 million is the appropriate annual amount — with a three-year commitment and an annual checkback to report progress to lawmakers.
“I think if we have significant initiatives that come along and create thousands of jobs and take a higher price tag then we come to the Legislature for those specific requests because some of those can go from $100 million to $200 million,” Thrasher said. “We wouldn’t do ’em if the rate of return wasn’t good. It wouldn’t make sense.”
During his presentation, Thrasher let it drop that he and Governor Justice had met earlier in the day with a major employer looking at sites. He also mentioned the likelihood of “some exciting automotive announcements in the next couple of months.”
But during his presentation and in the interview afterwards he did not name names.
Thrasher, in response to a question about pursuit of Amazon’s desire for a second headquarters, said West Virginia is taking aim.
“We’re working on it and every other lead that we have,” Thrasher said. “By all means that’s on our radar screen and we’ve been working on it actively. We might have a teaming effort with some surrounding state. We’re thinking outside the box.”
But Thrasher and other representatives from the Commerce Department focused on the potential of more marketing resources and the availability of prepared development sites.
They noted that West Virginia has made progress in making the state more business-friendly, but said the state needs to do more to convey the message.
“If we really think all we have to do is pass right-to-work, tort reform, workers comp reform, and they’re going to flock in, that’s not reality. The reality is, that gets you a seat at the table,” Thrasher said.
“If you do not give us what we need to prepare these sites and incentivize those companies to come into West Virginia we will remain just like we are.”