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Cities link up to discuss W.Va.'s economic future

September 21, 2000

Cities link up to discuss W.Va.'s economic future



By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer

Interactive forumSHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - The problems and challenges facing West Virginia's economy were laid out on the table Thursday night during a unique interactive video discussion that took place among 10 sites across the state.

In Shepherdstown, Eastern Panhandle residents were given the opportunity to hear and talk about issues important to them from a broadcasting site in Stutzman-Slonake Hall at Shepherd College.

Their comments were directed to panelists representing various fields at West Virginia Public Television's office in Charleston, W.Va.

Citizens stood before a camera to ask their questions. Their appearances were broadcast to nine other sites across the state as well as to the panel group in Charleston.

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David Pancake, who joined about 20 local residents in the Shepherd College location, said it was a good idea.

Although Pancake said the media typically does a good job informing the public about issues, he said the simultaneous interactive program was a way for state residents to learn about issues with "no bias."

"This type of in-depth detail is what our citizens need to hear," said Pancake.

Much of the discussion revolved around the future of public education, and Pancake, executive director of the Hampshire County Development Authority, was focusing in on the talks.

When panelist Jack Wiseman, executive director of the West Virginia Clearinghouse for Workforce Development, said elementary schools need to focus less on computer skills for young kids and more on basic skills, Pancake shook his head.

"I think he's off base," Pancake said.

People in the southern part of the state concentrated on coal production and how the southern counties need to diversify rather than concentrating so much on coal for their economic well-being.

For the Eastern Panhandle crowd, the issues were different.

They were concerned about losing large numbers of public school teachers to better paying jobs in neighboring states. They were also concerned about minority issues.

Berkeley County Schools official Taylor Perry, who went to the Shepherd College location, said Berkeley County Schools lost about 30 teachers this year to higher paying jobs in neighboring Maryland and Virginia.

If pay for teachers in West Virginia is not increased, the county will continue to be a training ground for teachers, said Perry, director of pupil services.

"We have to do something," he said.

George Rutherford, president of the Jefferson County chapter of the NAACP, was the first local resident to pose a question to the statewide audience. Rutherford wanted to know if the state workforce will ever be a desirable place for minorities.

The discussion was made possible by two innovations: a $20 million high-speed network that Bell Atlantic (now Verizon) built in the state, and the "VBrick," a super high speed modem/encoder that transmits video, images and voice over network wires.

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