Legislature looks at broad steps to move W.Va. forward


CHARLESTON — Moving West Virginia forward is the idea behind an initiative of the same name.

During a West Virginia Press Association Legislative Lookahead panel, WVU’s vice president for strategic development shared some of the overall themes of the initiative.

Rob Alsop said WVU has worked with Marshall University and the W.Va. Department of Commerce for the initiative to serve as a blueprint of a host of actions to try to move West Virginia forward.

“We think a lot of the recommendations have merit to move our state forward,” Alsop said.

“It’s not only for the state but it’s for the university,” he said. “We consider ourselves a thought leader.”

West Virginia Forward will look at technological advancements, entrepreneurship and innovation, STEM education, research and business development and more to address work force issues, the opioid crisis, tourism and much more.

WVU wants to be part of moving West Virginia forward, according to Alsop.

“We have a calling for our state,” he said.

WVU is also already involved in several technological advancements related to oil and gas, petroleum, and more. 

Energy Institute’s Brian Anderson was heavily involved in some of the technical applications to move the application forward for the Appalachia Storage Hub, WVU doctors recently performed the first heart valve surgery of its kind and WVU is working to address the opioid crisis. 

“That’s what West Virginia Forward is all about,” Alsop said. “It’s how the university can help be a leader to move our state forward.”

“It’s also not a report to stand on a shelf,” he said. “We hope not. We want it to be a dynamic blueprint moving forward.

“We continue to raise money for it. We haven’t asked for any state dollars for this initiative.

“We have formed a steering committee that is going to start meeting next week and we are really going to work internally at university to help.”

West Virginia Forward is looking at many things that have already been discussed in the state and is about creating alignment both for the state’s leaders and for the university.

“W.Va. Forward reiterated something the speaker [Speaker of the House Tim Armstead] has worked on for a long time,” he said.

“We need a business-friendly climate if we are going to have long-term sustainable economic growth. We’ve got a dynamic economy with an evolving work force.”

Gee points to a statistic that since the Great Recession 11 million jobs have been created and only 11,000 required just a high school diploma.

Some of the issues that West Virginia Forward has identified are the state’s tax structure and fixing the business property tax issue, side readiness and tourism.

“We have limited land so we need to really work hard at making sure sites are ready,” he said.

Tourism promotion is one of the concepts that can be looked at beyond legislative actions.

Eight-six percent of tourists who visit the state are repeaters,” he said.

“You think that’s a great stat,” he said. “People love to come back to West Virginia, but what that also tells you is only 14 percent are coming to the state for the first time.

“We need to brand ourselves and that is something the governor has talked about.”

Armstead said WVU president Gordon Gee has been a powerhouse to work with.

“He has put a lot of his time and effort into really trying to look beyond the next few years and into the next 20 to 30 years of what we can do to move our state forward.”

Some progress has already been made in the last few years with changing the tax structure but Armstead said there is more to do.

“We realized some of the challenges that were in front of us,” he said. “I felt optimistic about where West Virginia could be but I wasn’t optimistic about where we were.”

Those areas that need addressed remain tax structure, infrastructure, education, legal and regulatory climate and the drug epidemic.

“Those are five big areas that if we can make progress in and we are going to continue, it has started turning our state around,” he said.

And there may be a little money to go towards these.

“We started this point last year with projections of $500 million deficits,” he said.

The state legislature had to decide between spending more or making cuts to right the budget.

“There was some outcry,” he said. “Now, because of those tough decisions, I believe we are in a situation where for the first time in several years we are currently at a very slight surplus. “

“Back in December during the interims, we heard numbers from our budget off that if we remain 3 percent fiscal growth through the remainder of this fiscal year, we will be on course.

“We are currently on course.”

“I do anticipate we will end this fiscal year without having to fill gaps and without having to look at tax increases,” he said.

“To me that is an incredible position to be in,” he said. “I think that was the result of some very tough decisions that had to be made.”

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