State must attract more job creators

West Virginia has one of the lowest labor force participation rates in the nation, meaning that the percentage of state residents who work for a living or are seeking jobs is worse than in most other states.

One reason for that is a lack of good job opportunities in several regions of the state. Making that worse is the White House’s war on the coal industry and affordable electricity.

All the more reason to diversify our economy. But that remains an uphill battle because in many ways, West Virginia is not appealing to business people seeking places to locate new manufacturing, retailing or service industry facilities.

Even in taking advantage of the biggest economic development boon in decades – natural gas drilling and processing – West Virginia is at a disadvantage because it is difficult to find large, flat sites served by the necessary infrastructure.

But government regulation and the state’s tax structure also are impediments. State officials need to find ways to make it more appealing financially to come to West Virginia.

Indeed, we are making progress in “selling” ourselves to job creators. Earlier this year, the Tax Foundation rated our state 23rd in the nation in terms of business tax climate. That was better than any surrounding state.

Still, when it comes to attracting the big national and multi-national companies that can provide jobs by the thousands, 23rd is not good enough. More tax relief, targeting businesses, will be necessary for West Virginia to compete in that arena.

State officials have known that for some time, of course. They are right to note they have been working on taxes, with some business tax relief implemented during recent years. In addition, moves such as eliminating the sales tax on food make West Virginia more attractive to companies looking at quality of life for their employees.

Now is not the best time to be talking about tax reductions of any kind, many in state government emphasize. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and legislators had to in effect borrow money from the state’s emergency “Rainy Day” fund to balance the state budget for the current year. How, some lawmakers ask, can they be expected to reduce taxes in that environment?

But West Virginia continues to be stuck in a vicious cycle in that regard. We are too poor to offer a competitive tax climate – but one reason for that is lack of good-paying jobs for Mountain State residents. Unless we find ways to bring more high-quality employers to the state, that will continue.

And if we do not go down that route, the state’s economy will remain stuck in a rut. Tomblin and legislative leaders should recognize that, and pursue additional tax relief to make West Virginia more attractive to job creators.