John Deskins, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at West Virginia University, pulled no punches in discussing one of the factors holding back the state’s economy. In exploring sectors where we should strive for improvement, he said “I think we might be able to ultimately move away from that negative stereotype that we want to avoid.”
To that end, Deskins told lawmakers last month he believes our state can diversify its economy by promoting our outdoor recreation opportunities, our appeal as a location for remote workers and also tourism.
“If we do more to ultimately continue to boost tourism in West Virginia, get people to start thinking of us as a tourism-oriented state at least in some sense, (then) we can do things to bring more remote workers to come here and spend more money in the state to build momentum …,” Deskins said.
He also talked about the importance of having sellable plots of land, ready for businesses, as we work to catch up with surrounding states in that regard.
But Deskins’ concern for our future stems from the number of people who are simply no longer part of the workforce. The Mountain State is dead last in terms of the percentage of the eligible workforce either actively employed or looking for a job.
And that’s where we get back to those negative stereotypes.
Deskins said those numbers are driven by poor educational outcomes, health issues and substance abuse.
“Getting more of our people in the workforce is crucial for economic development. In order to get a business to come to West Virginia, we have to be able to convince that business that it can find the workers that it needs in West Virginia,” he said.
So there it is. An effort must now be made to get people into the workforce, particularly with the recent positive economic development announcements in Mason and Kanawha counties. We’ve got to change the mindset others have of West Virginia, and that starts by being honest with ourselves about the many challenges we must overcome.
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