Business stories to look for in 2014
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Now that we've examined the top business stories of 2013, why don't we look ahead to 2014 and ponder the potential business stories -- big and small -- that we might talk about in the New Year.
* Will the state Legislature tackle any significant tax or spending reforms next year?
West Virginia saw a healthy pace of economic growth in the last year, but you wouldn't know if from state revenue reports. The state's general revenue fund entered December with a $57 million shortfall, and there's talk of mid-year budget cuts to help close the gap.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways has also recommended raising $1.1 billion for state roads over the next decade by increasing Division of Motor Vehicles fees and raising tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike.
With 2014 being an election year, and the GOP eying a takeover in the House of Delegates, it's hard to imagine a proposal raising that much revenue passing during the next session.
* Where will insurance premiums be at the end of next year?
With a divided Congress (most of which is also up for re-election), it's unlikely any significant changes will be made to the Affordable Care Act in the coming year.
The big question for consumers and businesses facing the mandate to provide coverage in 2015 will be how the first year of the health law affects insurance premiums going into 2015.
West Virginia's health care exchange already had higher-than-average premiums going into 2014, and those rates were set before it was learned Highmark would be the lone provider in the exchange.
Will enough young, healthy individuals purchase insurance in order to keep costs down after the first year? Time will have to tell.
On the small business side of things, one trend I will be watching next year:
* How many new West Virginia stores will Sheetz announce in 2014?
The Pennsylvania-based convenience restaurant chain should be nicknamed the Starbucks of Appalachia given its pace of expansion in recent years.
It already has four locations in Putnam County, one is in the works for South Charleston, and Jackson County will be getting two in the next few years.
With the Kanawha Valley labeled a primary growth region for the company, will the Charleston area see more locations cropping up in the near future?
* Related to that: What will the state's existing store chains -- Speedway, Go Mart, Par Mar and Little General Store -- do to compete with Sheetz's aggressive growth?
Speedway has already decided to completely reconstruct its South Charleston location and is building new, large store off the Fairplain exit in Jackson County (one exit south of Sheetz's planned Ripley location).
Little General also recently acquired several stores in north-central West Virginia. It will be interesting to see what further steps existing stores take to adapt to the competition from Sheetz, and how those changes benefit consumers.