"We can aim to be the cheapest place in the U.S., or we can aim to be the most productive," White said.
White was one of a number of labor and economic development workers who spoke at a meeting of the Tri-County Labor Council at the Holiday Inn in MARTINSBURG. The Labor Council is a group of unions that come together to discuss labor issues of importance in the Panhandle, said Sheila Hamilton, acting chairwoman of the organization.
Establishing quality jobs in the Eastern Panhandle is a major concern in the area, and the Tri-County Labor Council believes it is important for businesses, the labor movement, educators, legislators and the community to collaborate to bring better-paying jobs to the area, she said.
"We're here to fight for working people. We need to make it better for people that are out there struggling," said Hamilton, who said Wednesday's meeting will be one of many to bring attention to the issue.
In addition to attracting higher paying jobs, White said the Panhandle needs to encourage growth of existing industries that offer good pay and benefits, such as General Motors, Corning Glass Works, Continental Brick Co. and Captiol Cement Corp.
"We take them for granted, and the next thing we know, they're gone," said White.
Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, said he agrees the Panhandle needs to be selective in the types of employers it brings to the area. The area needs to move away from distribution centers and telemarketing firms and offer incentives to bring high-tech companies to the area, he said.
With the area's low unemployment rate, it can be more selective about what kind of employers it wants, Unger said.
"The rest of West Virginia looks at any jobs, but we don't need to," he said.
Bob Crawford, executive director of the Berkeley County Development Authority, one of the lead agencies involved in attracting new business to the area, did not attend the meeting.
In a telephone interview, Crawford said all types of employers are needed in the area to match varying job skills of people in the region.
The Panhandle is moving in a good direction with the addition of Sino Swearingen and Tiger Aircraft, formerly TLM, Crawford said. Both companies are airplane manufacturers that are setting up factories at the Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport south of Martinsburg.
Crawford said he assumes wages will be higher than the local norm at Sino Swearingen and Tiger Aircraft, although he was not certain.
"When you have people that are building jet aircraft, that's not a minimum-wage job," Crawford said.
Frank Aliveto, assistant superintendent of curriculum for Berkeley County Schools, briefed unions on the school system's plans to turn out more highly skilled students. By ninth grade, students are required to take Algebra I instead of being allowed to take any math course, and summer school for students in kindergarten through eighth grade is being offered to bring students up to speed on skills, Aliveto said.
In the past, summer school was reserved for high school students, Aliveto said.