West Virginia’s economy is in transition, and it will take a collaborative effort by business, government and academia to ensure revitalization instead of stagnation, leaders from all three areas said Wednesday in releasing a summary of findings of a study entitled “West Virginia Forward: Maximizing our Opportunities for Prosperity.”
West Virginia Forward is the result of a joint effort by Marshall University, West Virginia University and the West Virginia Department of Commerce. The study itself was conducted by McKinsey and Co. and funded through private contributions and foundations.
“We are happy to be part of this collaborative with WVU, the Department of Commerce and McKinsey,” Marshall President Jerome A. Gilbert said. “We will work alongside the National Guard, Vision Shared, Imagine, the Business Roundtable, the Chamber of Commerce, Tech Connect and Discover the Real West Virginia Foundation.
“This partnership looks at West Virginia’s assets from a global perspective and pairs them with economic trends we can leverage for future growth. It adds importance of working together to move West Virginia Forward.”
WVU President Gordon Gee said, “We all need to be thought leaders on the major aspects of West Virginia’s economy. We are at a tipping point. We are in the midst of an economic crisis. This summary provides a reference in assessment, root cause analysis and development of solutions to address existing state’s challenges.
“This collaboration between Marshall University, West Virginia University and the West Virginia Department of Commerce was created to identify short-term and long-term projects to boost West Virginia’s economy,” he said during a news conference releasing the findings held at the State Capitol. Gee first announced the project at the West Virginia Chamber’s annual business summit.
“The governor’s initiative is clear: we need to create jobs,” Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher said. “These findings can dramatically reshape West Virginia’s economy. If we adopt this plan, together we can create effective change. And Commerce is proud to be a part of it.”
In presenting the findings, Rob Alsop, WVU’s vice president of strategic initiatives, said, “The study was undertaken to help understand West Virginia’s strengths and opportunities and to identify initiatives that will provide the collaboration to achieve both short- and long-term success in revitalizing the economy, creating jobs and priming the state for success.”
Alsop lifted up tourism as an example of the research’s findings:
- West Virginia has an opportunity to capture higher income as well as older tourists.
- Adventure tourism options can be expanded in southern West Virginia.
- The eastern part of the state is ripe for second homes.
- The northern part of the state can be attractive to higher income retires.
In addition to higher end tourism, other target areas include: carbon fiber reinforced plastic, fine chemicals and cybersecurity, with many other potential ones.
Next steps include the signing of a memorandum of understanding among WVU, Marshall and Commerce; creation of a structure of accountability; engage communities to become active in the effort; and create implementation groups.
Four implementation groups are already at work: energy, business climate, human capital and entrepreneurship, Alsop said.
“West Virginia Forward’s implementation presents an opportunity to reverse the economic fortunes of the state and create momentum around a more diverse and resilient economy,” the report says. “Effective implementation will be a key determinant of such a success, and will rely on ensuring the required governance structure, partnerships, and stakeholder engagement processes are in place to achieve these aspirations.”