Education, natural gas and job development were key points in a forum at Alderson Broaddus University Monday featuring Congressman David McKinley, West Virginia business leaders and university representatives.
"Just be patient," McKinley, R-W.Va., said in a media interview before the forum. "West Virginia is on the cusp of an entirely different economic profile."
"You're on the verge in West Virginia of having a whole new economic profile with the exploration of natural gas," McKinley added during the forum. "That's going to have secondary and tertiary job opportunities, white-collar jobs, as well as blue-collar jobs."
Although high technology development could bring jobs to West Virginia, McKinley said there was one important point that could hurt the growth of jobs. One of the key points was what McKinley referred to as the "war on coal."
McKinley said that President Barack Obama challenged Congress to do something about climate change. McKinley said as much as 41 percent of funding has been cut to research facilities in the state that are searching for more efficient ways to use coal. He said natural gas would be the next target.
"There's a real threat to our fossil fuel industry," McKinley said. "I'll be the first to tell you, there is climate change going on."
McKinley said that temperatures have increased by 2 degrees over the last 150 years and that the Atlantic Ocean water levels are about 8 inches higher than before. He said Obama wants to use fewer fossil fuels to reduce the impact. McKinley said the United Nations and others are now saying climate change and carbon emissions may not be as directly related as they are thought to be.
"They're having some second thoughts about that," McKinley said, adding it was because the temperature increase over the last 40 years when compared to the rising carbon emissions has been very slight. "If you take all the (carbon dioxide) emissions in the world, all of that, if we were to stop (burning coal) entirely - no emissions whatsoever - the impact on the world would be less than two-tenths of 1 percent of the CO2 emissions that are globally emitted every year.
"We're putting West Virginia's economy at risk- our manufacturers and our industries all across America - at risk for two-tenths of 1 percent of the global emissions of CO2.
"The more we can educate the public, the impact that's going to have on economic development in West Virginia, I think it's going to be very important," McKinley said.
Education was another key factor in economic growth that was discussed at the forum.
"If we grow the jobs right here at home, they're more likely to stay in the state and less likely to get moved elsewhere," TechConnect executive director Anne Barth said.
McKinley said education is important because employers want to see a trained workforce.Alderson Broaddus University President Dr. Richard Creehan said the university froze its tuition fees for three years and cut its student loans in half to inhibit a financial burden on a student who might otherwise be able to find a job or start a business within the state.
"We want these businesses to begin here, but also remain here as they grow," Creehan said. "AB has accepted that challenge."
Alderson Broaddus was chosen as the forum's host for a reason, McKinley said. He said it would be easy to host such forums in areas like Charleston or Huntington where there is a larger population of the state's residents, but he thought it was important to be inclusive of rural areas so rural opinions and ideas can be heard.
"What we're trying to do is make sure that our rural America is heard," McKinley said. "That's why we're on this campus. I think rural America is crucial to the development of this country.
"We understand how important it is. We're still stuck with a 1.5 percent growth rate in this country. That's not a successful recovery out of recession. We have to find ways that we can get things moving a little bit faster, but we have to hear from the rural area. If Dr. Creehan can do it here at AB, why can't we do it?"