BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. — It’s been 91 years since a Harrison County native has held the title of West Virginia governor. Woody Thrasher hopes to change that, announcing his campaign for 2020.

Thrasher made the announcement Tuesday, in front of the Thrasher Group building at Bridgeport’s White Oaks surrounded by his colleagues, friends and family.

Woody Thrasher

“It was an eye-opening experience for me before when I had a chance to see just how government works, and I came away from that with a really strong belief that we can make change,” Thrasher said. “It’s not impossible. We’re not destined to be where we are. It’s just a lack of really good leadership, really working hard at fixing things.”

In a time when not being a career politician is becoming extremely popular, Thrasher feels his business experience will be an important part of his campaign.

“Particularly in West Virginia because different places need different things, but what West Virginia needs is economic revitalization and vitality,” he said. “I think a business person that’s successfully done that in this environment is a really good training ground to be able to apply those same principals to state government.”

Thrasher and his father Henry Thrasher first formed Thrasher Engineering in the early 1980s. Since then, the company has grown to employ nearly 700 employees in 11 states.

“We did it by serving the really small towns and communities across the state of West Virginia,” Thrasher said. “This state has been incredibly good to me, and I have a great sense of obligation. To whom much is given, much is expected. When I die, I want to know that I did the absolute best for this state that I love.”

With the announcement Tuesday, Thrasher stopped to consider what his dad might say if here today.

“My father would be turning over in his grave because he thought small was better, and he was a man that stayed under the radar,” he laughed. “In all seriousness, I think he and my mom would be extremely proud. They loved West Virginia just like I do. I have one regret that they weren’t here to hear what their grandchildren had to say. I was so proud of my boys today.”

Thrasher is focusing his campaign on economic development — a topic he said he’s good at and he knows well.

“We need to expand and diversify our economy,” he said. “For too long we’ve depended upon these mineral extraction industries. When times were good, we didn’t take the profits from that and diversify the economy. That’s why when those resources take a hit, we really take a hit exponentially. We dramatically need to diversify our economy outside of these regions of the state.”

Though Thrasher loves his home state of West Virginia and has always felt a calling to serve the Mountain State in any way he can, it took significant thought and reflection before tossing his hat in the ring.

“I just want West Virginia to have really good leadership, and I do not believe we have really good leadership now,” he said. “We have a very serious challenge. It’s going to take a lot of heavy lifting, and I think in order for us to be successful, we’ve got to have somebody who’s just going to work their tail off to move this state in the right direction. And unfortunately, I didn’t have confidence that was going to happen.

“We are not going in the right direction,” he added. “We remain 50th in nearly every good category and first in every bad category.”

Gov. Jim Justice

Upon hearing Thrasher’s announcement Tuesday, Gov. Jim Justice welcomed him to the race but was also quick to point out their differences.

“From the first day that Woody became the Commerce Secretary, he was running for something every day,” Justice said. “I mean, every day he was flying all over the place in the state plane and speaking to whoever would listen to him. That’s what Woody wants to do. Woody needs that. I mean, that fuels Woody.”

But Justice said he doesn’t need that.

“I don’t need ego and status, and I surely don’t need the next hot tip to better my business,” he said.

The Governor forced Thrasher out of the position of Commerce Secretary last year.

Thrasher’s name had been involved with controversy over the state’s handling of millions of dollars in federal long-term flood relief money. He earlier was at the center of a China investment deal potentially worth billions of dollars.

“All that running and everything, that’s what got Woody in a mess because there were things that we going on that were basically self-serving things,” Justice said.

But Thrasher feels he’s a better choice for the 2020 primary, especially at a time when West Virginia is losing population at an alarming state.

Last year alone, the Mountain State lost over 10,000 residents on the heels of 20 years of decline.

“And we’re not only losing people, we’re losing youth — the best and the brightest that we have,” Thrasher said. “They’re leaving because there’s a lack of opportunity, and there’s a lack of opportunity because there’s a lack of leadership at the very highest level.”

But, Thrasher said, West Virginia is not resigned by fate to be 50th.

“So I have a dream,” he said. “Where we not only have the best of West Virginia and its people, but we also have a land that is full of opportunity. Where young people can find meaningful employment and find real careers. Where the various regions within the state are diversified and each in their own way achieve prosperity. Where our small communities empowered with broadband have a resurgence of activity. Where our roads are fixed. Where integrity is restored. Where we are no longer 50th. Where we’re a role model for how you turn it around. Join me and let’s make West Virginia prosper.”