Leader Needed

Commerce department key to state economy

It has been nearly three months since Woody Thrasher was ousted as head of the West Virginia Department of Commerce. It is time to move on with a new, permanent leader for the agency.

Thrasher resigned as a result of the scandal over delays in helping victims of June 2016 flooding. His department had been handling the RISE program set up to provide disaster relief.

On June 15, the day after Thrasher departed, Gov. Jim Justice appointed W. Clayton Burch as interim secretary of the commerce department.

Burch seems to have a good resume — as far as it goes. When he took over the commerce agency, he had been serving as associate state superintendent of schools. In that post, he was outranked only by Superintendent Steve Paine.

Obviously, Burch can navigate his way around a bureaucracy. The Department of Education is an enormous one.

But public education appears to be Burch’s area of expertise. What Mountain State residents need at the commerce agency is an economic development leader.

Opportunities to attract new businesses — and jobs — to West Virginia occur relatively frequently. Some are small, others are large. All are important. We need someone who can lead the commerce department to bring as many new businesses and expansions to the state as possible.

Let us not forget the big deal. We refer, of course, to the Chinese plan to invest $84 billion in our state during a 10-year period.

Where does that stand? Is there a prospect for some of the money to begin flowing soon? What, if anything, can the state do to prime the pump in Beijing?

It has been reported that some legislators and business leaders are eager for Justice to name a new permanent head of the commerce department soon. They are right to want that. Every day of economic development opportunities lost is a day West Virginia cannot make up. Justice should get the ball rolling, and soon.


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