Economic Report

Gee offers guide for state’s development

Most West Virginians have known for years that we need to do something different to ensure our state’s economy can support our children and grandchildren. That was obvious even before former President Barack Obama’s administration began wrecking the coal industry.

But what? Where? How?

What we lacked was an objective, forward-looking strategy for diversifying our economy. Now, we may have one. It is no surprise it comes from West Virginia University.

During a speech to business leaders last week, WVU President E. Gordon Gee said the university and other state leaders have produced a guide to developing the state’s economy. The full report is to be released within a couple of weeks.

Some of what those collaborating on the study found is obvious. In that category is capitalizing on natural gas production by attracting new plastics and chemical manufacturers.

Making that happen may be a challenge, however. Ours is not the only state with rich natural gas resources. And pipelines being built now can take our gas hundreds of miles away to end-user manufacturers in other states.

Part of Gee’s presentation emphasized what we must do to ensure we, not other states, win the race on gas drilling spinoff development. As Gee noted, “where we can succeed is by differentiating ourselves from the competition.”

That comment also may be a key to other aspects of the strategy. For example, tourism already is a major contributor to the economy. Ensuring potential visitors understand the many attractions we, and we alone, have, is critical. And, as Gee noted, specialization may help. Specifically, he cited “higher-end” tourism.

Gee covered many other possibilities, which no doubt will be covered in detail in the full report.

What will be important — nay, vital — is for West Virginians and those in government and the private sector not to view the report as an end in and of itself. Patting ourselves on the back and putting the report on a shelf will do no good.

Prioritizing and implementing recommendations in the report is the only way it will help West Virginia. Let us hope the study offers some suggestions on how to make that happen as soon as possible.

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