12 January, 2017

Only The Legislature Can Destroy West Virginia's Greatest Barrier To Prosperity

Yesterday on Hoppy Kercheval's show, Governor Tomblin did what so many other politicians have done on Hoppy's show, on Mayor Danny Jones’ show and on Bray Cary’s show. He correctly identified West Virginia’s greatest barrier to prosperity – our poorly educated workforce – but failed to say what WV must do to increase our inventory of college grads, especially those with degrees in the STEM disciplines. All of our elected leaders can name the problem so why do they pretend not to know the solution? Consultants, economists, authors and, most importantly, employers, have been telling West Virginia for decades that companies will not invest in and create jobs in West Virginia until we can deliver the 21st century workforce they need.

George Orwell said, “We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.

It’s obvious that the employers who keep sending their plants, their projects and their jobs to better-educated states aren’t going to change their minds about West Virginia until West Virginia gives them the minds they need to run their businesses. It’s obvious that our elected leaders know this even if they won’t say so on radio or TV. It’s obvious that since it’s the legislature that has the power to pass the laws and allocate the money to solve West Virginia’s problems, it’s the legislature’s job to use their powers of purse and policy to buy West Virginia the college-educated workforce that will make West Virginia magnetic to outside money. Only the legislature can do this. We elected them to use their powers to solve West Virginia’s problems and now we must demand that they do the job they campaigned to do.

As Ted Boettner from the West Virginia Center on Policy and Budget has observed, the revenue from the old franchise tax would have paid for free in-state college for every West Virginia high school graduate who wants to go to college but instead of using the money to remove West Virginia’s greatest barrier to prosperity, our legislature repealed that tax.

It should also be obvious that our state’s so-called “business” and “economic development” organizations need to help our legislators focus on producing a college-educated workforce that makes West Virginia irresistible to outside investment. They can do this by harmonizing their legislative agendas. Stop confusing our legislators with competing agendas. They are prone to chase shiny objects anyway. Remove all shiny objects from their view and help them to think only about how to increase West Virginia’s supply of college-educated workers.

It should be obvious that, while the Promise Scholarship is the right medicine for a sick West Virginia economy, it is being administered in too small a dosage to cure the patient. West Virginia must radically expand the Promise Scholarship to produce tens of thousands of new college grads each year.

It should also be obvious that it makes no sense to buy a better workforce only to let that workforce leave the state so Promise Scholarship recipients must agree to remain in WV for, say, five years after graduation.

And let’s make the Promise Scholarship a STEM scholarship. We’re already producing more English majors, communications majors and political science majors than employers need so we must spend our tax money on math, engineering, chemistry, computer science, robotics and other disciplines the 21st century economy needs.

If West Virginia’s legislators do their job and focus on solving the problem they have already named, we can make West Virginia more famous for its educated workforce than for its drug addiction.

Bray Cary, Decision Makers, Danny Jones, Hoppy Kercheval,

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