West Virginia has a “chicken-or-the-egg” economic problem.
Our state, like every other state, can always use more economic development—new businesses opening and moving in from out of state and existing businesses expanding.
Economic growth creates wealth that is shared among those participating in the economy and generates the revenue for government to provide the services people want and need.
However, successful businesses must have a trained and dependable workforce, and that’s where West Virginia has more headwinds than most states.
First, our population growth is stagnant. Not enough new people are moving into the state to increase the size of the workforce.
And too many of the people here are not even available for work. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, West Virginia’s civilian labor force participation rate is only 55 percent, compared with the national average of 63 percent.
Brian Lego, economic forecaster with West Virginia University’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, told our Brad McElhinny the labor participation rate is the lowest in the country.
“We have a large number of people in those prime workforce years that just aren’t involved in the workforce,” Lego said. “That’s one of the reasons we have a lot of the outcomes we do.”
The drug epidemic contributes to the state’s workforce issues. A MetroNews West Virginia Poll released this week found that 59 percent of West Virginia voters believe that hiring workers who can pass a drug test is a major barrier to the economy.
After the drug issue, those polled say the next biggest obstacle is lack of training. Forty-five percent said finding qualified workers is a major barrier to business, while 42 percent said it is a small barrier.
And finally, as the saying goes, “showing up is 80 percent of life,” but even that is perceived as a problem in West Virginia. Nearly forty percent of voters we questioned believe that getting workers to show up daily is a major barrier to the state’s economy.
By comparison, just 22 percent believe environmental regulations are a hinderance to economic growth.
Perhaps more businesses would start here, move here or expand in West Virginia if we had a better workforce. But then again, if there were more good jobs available, people would be motivated to get trained and show up knowing they could make a career out of the job.
This is West Virginia’s ongoing economic conundrum. Neither platitudes about West Virginia having “the best workers” nor the government picking economic winners and losers will solve the problem.
The first step is acknowledging what the research shows—economic growth is directly linked to the quality of the workforce, and in West Virginia we have a lot of work to do on that front.