NUMEROUS presenters spoke about diversifying West Virginia's economy this week during an economic forum highlighting the future of the Mountain State.
■ Ted Boettner, director of the Center on Budget & Policy, a sponsor of the forum, said the state needs to diversify to a more sustainable economy, less susceptible to booms and busts, that is based on knowledge, higher education, manufacturing and technology.
■ David Satterfield, director of asset development in the West Virginia University Office of Research and Economic Development, said "The most important thing we have to do is help inspire the next generation and tell our children a new story."
■ "When we talk about West Virginia's future, we have to understand that it's not going to look like our past," said Matt Ballard of the Charleston Area Alliance.
■ "We are all about diversity of West Virginia's economy," said Keith Burdette, cabinet secretary for the Department of Commerce. "That's all we do."
■ "Don't forget about the adults," said Jim Skidmore, chancellor of the Community and Technical College System, remarking that more than half of the system's students are over age 25. "We have a big job to get those low-skill adults into high-skill jobs."
Sounds like there was a lot of good discussion by intelligent people at the forum. Thanks to the sponsoring organizations, which also included the Union of Concerned Scientists and the West Virginia Community Development Hub, for pushing the economic diversity discussion in West Virginia.
And while the state should always look toward the future and promote diverse economic growth, it's important not to neglect the traditional industries that helped build the state and brought the parents, grandparents and great grandparents of today's citizens to the Mountain State in the first place.
Those include coal, chemical manufacturing, glass, and more. While some may have seen better economic days, they remain important and deserve efforts to help them survive and grow.
Efforts to incentivize, diversify and encourage new business needs to be strong. But those efforts should help traditional industries too.
West Virginia needs to provide all businesses with an educated workforce, a stable regulatory environment and a competitive tax structure that encourages job growth and wealth creation.