West Virginia Officials Discuss Prospects for Growth and Infrastructure | News, Sports, Jobs

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Photo courtesy of W.Va. Legislative Photography – West Virginia Director of Economic Development Mitch Carmichael said on Friday that the state would make announcements next week regarding the expansion of broadband in rural areas.

WHEELING – The question for West Virginia lawmakers as they travel to Charleston next week is which challenge they should tackle first – tackle the state’s loss of population, improve its highways, or expand l broadband access to rural areas.

How best to position West Virginia for growth going forward was one of the topics for discussion at a virtual “Legislative Lookahead” forum Friday hosted by the West Virginia Press Association.

West Virginia Director of Economic Development Mitch Carmichael told reporters on Friday that the state would make announcements next week regarding the expansion of broadband in rural areas.

“Our goal is to reach those in West Virginia who don’t have broadband service,” said Carmichael, who previously worked in the communications industry. “We’re not building a service for those who already have it, but for those who don’t.”

Of about 700,000 home addresses in West Virginia, 300,000 currently do not have broadband access, he said.

Carmichael left the Zoom meeting shortly after his comments and did not respond to questions posed by the media.

Senator Charles Clements, R-Wetzel, is the Chairman of the Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and he has suggested that road improvements in West Virginia need to take place

before broadband.

Businesses need to be able to move goods in and out efficiently, according to Clements.

“When we have new highway construction, we need to make sure everything is ready so that broadband users don’t have to struggle to find space in the right-of-way through buried conduits and over. poles, ”he said. “We have to do this. Probably the most important thing we can do for this state is turn off that broadband. “

Senator Owens Brown, D-Ohio, offered a different perspective.

“The roads and bridges are great. But if we don’t have the people here, what’s the point? ” He asked.

West Virginia needs to rehabilitate its image and present itself as a safe, educated and prosperous place to live, according to Brown.

“Businesses are drawn to places where they can bring families to live,” he said. “As long as we have the label of drug problems here… it’s not appealing.”

The state also needs to invest more in its schools and education system, Brown said.

Danny Twilley is the Associate Dean of the Brad and Alys Smith Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative at West Virginia University. He suggested that the state should focus on improving its tourism opportunities and providing a reason for high-tech talent to come and visit the state and stay.

“Why would people want to come to West Virginia instead of other states? ” He asked. “We have to create this type of environment.

“Talent is the new tax incentive to attract business. “

And the state’s tourism should lead the way, according to Twilley.

“People will start to wonder, if I go to West Virginia to play, how do I find my way there?” he said.

Twilley noted that Utah invests heavily in its outdoor recreation projects and has experienced the highest population growth rate in the country in recent years.

There was a survey of high tech professionals who moved to the state, and 82% of them said they were moving there because of the outdoor opportunities. This figure is higher than the needs of families, according to Twilley.

Delegate Clay Riley, R-Harrison, said it’s important for the state to provide businesses with the tools they need to thrive in the state. What the state still lacks is a certification and site preparation program, he added.

More businesses are coming online to find potential locator sites that meet their needs, and investment in property certification and listing is needed in West Virginia, Riley explained.

“They (the site selection consultants) tell us, ‘90% of our work is done before we even reach a state,’ he said. “It’s not because we don’t have a great team, but because they never get to our team.”

Riley said 37 states already have certification and site preparation programs in place, “leaving West Virginia behind 8-ball.” The program will make it easier for businesses to find locations and will also help reduce their risk, he added.

“It’s one of the things I see coming out of this legislative session,” he said. “We’re really good as a competitive state when we have the chance. “

Lawmakers attending the forums discussed earlier today seemed receptive to the idea. House Speaker Roger Hanshaw R-Clay has indicated he will focus on ‘site-ready’ legislation in the next session, while Senate Speaker Craig Blair, R-Berkeley , said he could support her.

Clements said he was in favor of the program, and he predicted that much of what may come out of the next legislative session will focus on creating “projects ready to go in West Virginia.”

Angela Vance, deputy state director of advocacy for West Virginia AARP, said the association works to address digital inequalities by supporting state and federal policies that allow equal access to community. These are generally rural areas, poorer and with higher percentages of minority residents where there is no broadband access, she explained.

The AARP has also implemented its Technological Services for Seniors (OATS) program that helps seniors “harness the power of technology,” Vance said.

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