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mh 6sep00 - WVA economy

September 08, 2000

W.Va. economy



A new study of West Virginia's economy suggests that while the state has replaced most of the jobs lost due to the decline of coal mining and manufacturing, state officials need to do more to attract so-called "new economy" jobs. The study provides a perfect opportunity to question gubernatorial candidates on their plans for job growth in the Mountain State.

The study was done by MJD Inc., a research group based in Chapel Hill, N.C., which has tracked changes in the American South since 1967, The firms has also issued reports specific to West Virginia every two years since 1996. The latest report is a mixture of good and bad news and a suggested strategy for the future.

The bad news is really old news: In the 1980s and 1990s, coal and manufacturing in West Virginia lost an estimated 82,000 positions. On the upside, those losses were replaced by 83,000 new jobs, most of which paid less than the jobs lost when the dollars were adjusted for inflation. Had the state kept pace with the national growth rate, the study said 333,000 new jobs would have been created.

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MJD's prescription for economic success? The state capital must become a "stronger economic engine" to bring new economy jobs to the state, which must also build on its proximity to the Washington, D.C. area to build tourism and attract business.

Making Charleston a "new economy" business center will require some incentives, either to lure existing high-tech businesses, or to nurture start-ups. A high-speed fiber optic network is a must, as are schools ready to train workers for such jobs. In other words, a major commitment will be needed from the state, perhaps with some corporate partners helping with funding.

Which gubernatorial candidate will be forward-thinking enough to embrace such a plan? As the campaign heads for an election day less than three months away, the contenders need to talk about these issues, and about why citizens need to invest some of their tax dollars in an economy their children and grandchildren can share in.

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