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Truth about the economy in between the extremes

August 04, 1999

The debate over the benefits (or lack of same) that would result from a federal tax cut trickled down to the State of West Virginia last week, in a report from the Progressive Policy Institute, a Democratic think tank.

The PPI report ranked the Mountain State No. 48 in the so-called "New Economy," a marketplace of jobs and products based on information technology, global trade and service industries. Being ranked 49 in a field of 50 is never good, but a look at the reports suggest the ranking may be too low.

For example, West Virginia ranks 18th in school-based technology, which measures the percentage of classrooms wired for the Internet, teachers who have technology training and schools in which 50 or more of the teachers have school-based e-mail.

In addition, the state Legislature spends about half the state's annual budget on education, which Randolph Court, who co-authored the PPI report, said is "exactly what it should do."

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The state did less well in some other categories, including workforce education, percentage of adults with access to the Internet and number of patents issued to companies or individuals per every 1,000 people in the workforce.

But given that West Virginia ranks No. 12 among states in the export of manufacturing goods, the state should have done better in the "global trade" category. The fact that it didn't is probably due to the fact that most of those exported products are coal and chemicals, as opposed to microchips or electronic equipment.

PPI's Court says that to improve, the state must concentrate on training and education, while David Tyson, head of West Virginia's Republican Party, says that returning more money to the state's entrepreneurs is the way to create new jobs.

The truth, as usual, is somewhere between those extremes. Sometimes, despite PPI's claims to the contrary, it makes sense to prime the pump with economic incentives. But today's business people know that they can't create jobs unless the workers are ready to fill them. A little less contention and a little more searching for common ground is what West Virginia needs.

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