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Selling the future as the place to be

July 11, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

In what seemed as much a pep talk as a speech, West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise this week told a group of Eastern Panhandle business and political leaders that the region might be in the running for a global corporation's new data center.

Whether it happens or not, Wise's administration has many believing the state is ready to get beyond its "old economy" base of coal mining and manufacturing.

First came Wise's decision to push through the legalization of video lottery games, which gave the state the financial breathing room to fund the PROMISE scholarship program.

The program provides up to $2,000 a year in tuition assistance to students who've achieved a B average in high school - and continue to do so in college. In 2001, about 3,500 students applied, or about 20 percent of last year's senior class.

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Wise has also embraced "A Vision Shared," an effort begun two years ago by the state's Council for Community and Economic Development to deal with the problems faced by a state with an aging population and an economy too dependent on mining, manufacturing and timbering, all sectors which are shrinking.

The foundation of that effort is education and training, so that West Virginia will have more people capable of running and repairing high-tech equipment for the "new economy" companies the state wants to attract.

The state will get some help from the Appalachian Regional Commission, which released a study this week that shows the Appalachian region is short of the equipment and training high-tech businesses need.

Congress recognized that earlier this year when it reauthorized ARC for the next five years, recommending that the agency put millions more into providing Internet access and aiding entrepreneurs.

The transition won't be easy. As a spokesman for the West Virginia Roundtable noted when the "Vision" plan was released, some citizens greatly fear change because it might threaten "the values they hold dear." Wise's task is to reassure those folks that change is necessary, and not necessarily a bad thing.

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