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Governor forecasts solid future for state

July 09, 2002|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

A global corporation is looking at locations across the United States to set up a center where it would consolidate all its data systems, West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise told a crowd of about 150 people Monday night.

But any site won't do, he said.

The new site for the company must have an up-to-date telecommunications system and skilled workers that know how to handle the company's data, as well as other requirements, Wise said during a town meeting on economic development at the Holiday Inn.

"It's an extremely sophisticated operation," Wise told the crowd, made up of business and political leaders from Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties.

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Wise asked the leaders if the Eastern Panhandle could land such a company.

Most of them thought it could.

The air of optimism continued through the night as Wise outlined a list of economic development initiatives the state has undertaken in hopes of landing such projects.

The state is working to develop up to $100 million in venture capital to help new businesses get started and has revamped its tax incentives, which had become outdated, Wise said.

There is a new tax incentive for research and development companies, and this year, state citizens will be able to vote on a constitutional amendment that will allow counties to issue bonds to attract businesses to their communities, Wise said. The bonds would be paid off by the new taxes generated by the companies, Wise said.

Wise said the state "has a whole new set of tools in the tool box" for economic growth, and the positive climate is buoyed by other strong assets.

Wise told the crowd that if anyone has a book on West Virginia "that's older than one month, throw it out. It's irrelevant," he said.

People who attended could attest that something new was in the works.

In 1999, David Levine started up a successful company in Shepherdstown that operated a Web site for buying and selling mortgage loans. The computer-based company grew rapidly, and some of the 80 workers there were earning upwards of $60,000 a year.

But within a year, Ultraprise had to move some of its operations to a high-tech corridor in Dulles, Va., because it could not get enough skilled workers in the area.

Levine said he now sees a new business climate in the state, with increased job retention efforts over the last year. Economic development authorities in Berkeley and Jefferson counties have been helping Levine's new company seek out business loan opportunities.

"It's a vastly different state than it was a few months ago," said Levine, whose business, Butterfly.net, is making a product that allows millions of players who buy third-party software to play Internet video games at one time.

Others still see room for improvement.

Charles Town, W.Va., businessman Bill Chesley said the Eastern Panhandle has been waiting for 10 years for W.Va. 9 to be widened to four lanes.

Chesley said there are companies "waiting to come to West Virginia if we can get the road built."

Chesley said there is one more federal approval process pending before construction can begin, and he pressed Wise on when that decision might be made.

Wise said he did not know when the action will be taken.

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