CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia can build on its economic strengths such as its business tax climate that’s ranked 18th in the nation or its culture of employee loyalty, advocates for development told state legislators.
“There are things we want to tell our story and really showcase,” said Rocky Goodwin, senior associate vice president for academic and public strategy at West Virginia University.
But, Goodwin said, “Some things we have room to improve.”
That includes issues such as access to broadband internet, overall workforce participation and the way the state is perceived outside its borders.
Goodwin and Josh Jarrell, deputy cabinet secretary in the state Department of Commerce, discussed economic challenges and opportunities on Tuesday before the Legislative Oversight Commission on Workforce Investment for Economic Development during legislative interim meetings.
Their touchstone was West Virginia Forward, a growth strategy study whose backers included West Virginia and Marshall universities with analysis from McKinsey & Company.
“How are we poised to succeed in growth sectors?” asked Goodwin. “We want to be a deeper bench for all of you.”
Jarrell said the report offers a range of ideas. “The challenge is to figure out how to prioritize it.”
He said a top priority should be providing additional resources for the Development Office, the Tourism Department and for the Division of Natural Resources to spread the word about West Virginia.
Senator Mike Romano, D-Harrison, expressed support for that idea.
“We have the 18th best business tax climate in the U.S., isn’t that right?” Romano said. “We need some money to get out and tout these things.”
Jarrell responded, “We don’t tell our story well enough. The business climate is a really good metric for us.”
Romano chimed in again, “Our taxation is great here. What we’ve really got to do is change the voice of our cheerleaders.”
Jarrell said the Development Office needs to make progress with a certified site program that would prepare locations for businesses that want to locate in West Virginia.
Such sites would be subject to the timetables of businesses that need to make quick decisions about location, he said.
“We’re trying to prioritize the sites we think could be prepared the quickest,” Jarrell said. “The site issue is super-challenging.”
He also said West Virginia needs to improve its culture of entrepreneurship. “There’s almost no risk capital for small business,” he said.
Delegate Ron Walters, R-Kanawha, asked about internet in West Virginia. “How hard is it to sell a state when you rank 50th in broadband,” Walters asked.
“Hard,” Jarrell responded.
He added, “The pipe is important, and we’ve got to keep working on it.”