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Organizer of economic discussion hopes event sparks dialogue

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- There's precious little optimism in most discussions about West Virginia's economic future.

Jeremy Richardson, a fellow at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, D.C., hopes to change that with his event "A Bright Economic Future for the Mountain State," coming to the Clay Center this week.

Richardson, who grew up outside of Fairmont, organized the event along with the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy.

"The whole point of this event was to try to really have a conversation about what we want our future to look like in West Virginia," he said. "My goal for this is to try to help people's idea of what's possible."

Richardson has spent the last year and a half analyzing the future of West Virginia's coal energy, and how it would affect the state's economy. His paper on that research will soon be submitted to an academic journal, but Richardson plans to talk about some of his findings during Wednesday's event.

Richardson's fellowship with the Union of Concerned Scientists ends this month, and he said the Clay Center event would serve as a culmination of his research.

Speakers include representatives from nonprofits, the faith community, academic community, state government officials and businesspeople.

The event begins 6 p.m. Tuesday with a reception including keynote addresses from West Virginia Senate President Jeff Kessler and Secretary of State Natalie Tennant,

A full day of panels and discussions begins at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.

At 9 a.m. Beth Vorhees of West Virginia Public Radio will serve as moderator for the panel "West Virginia in 30 Years."

Panelists will include former congressman Alan Mollohan, Anne Barth, executive director of the TechConnectWV, Matt Ballard, president of the Charleston Area Alliance, and Scott Rotruck of Chesapeake Energy.

Other speakers include Ted Boettner, executive director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, who will deliver a talk about the proposed trust fund some state lawmakers hope to create using natural gas tax revenues.

At 11:40 a.m., Richardson will talk about "a roadmap for sustainable economic development."

Sen. Jay Rockefeller also will speak to the crowd during lunch.

"The idea was to get a cross-section of perspectives to try to foster a conversation," Richardson said.

He said he invited experts who could talk about specific, concrete ideas about how West Virginia can diversity its economy. Some will speak about programs already in place in West Virginia, while others are experts will bring ideas from other states that could be co-opted here.

"The idea for this. . .was not to talk about problems, but to talk about solutions," he said.

Documentary director Elaine McMillion will host a screening of her project documentary "Hollow" at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. The interactive documentary is made up of 30 shorter documentaries created by McMillion and her production team of McDowell County residents. The project also includes photos, data visualizations and maps.

The event is free to the public, but Richardson said anyone interested in attending should visit

future to register. Seats are filling up fast.

Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-7939 or Follow him at


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