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State chamber summit: Economic Development Department leaders describe work, success of their new department

The day after Gov. Jim Justice announced a $141.8 million August budget surplus and recapped a year of economic accomplishments, the leaders of his new Economic Development Department spoke to state chamber members about what the state has been doing to achieve this.

Economic Development Secretary Mitch Carmichael and Economic Development Executive Director Mike Graney took the stage on the last day of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce 2022 Summit at The Greenbrier.

Carmichael credited the chamber for its “story that hasn’t been told often or enough … a triumph of policy over politics” in the chamber’s lobbying to enact policies to promote the business environment and bring investment to the state.

Those policies include tort reforms that finally took West Virginia off the Judicial Hellhole list; and educational reforms, including free community college and technical school education; and shaping of a competitive business tax structure.

The department’s role, he said, is creating a sales culture to market the state. “We want to be proactive.”

Carmichael is known for his hyper energy and joked, “I get accused all the time of always saying yes. Frankly I do.” He never wants to say no without an alternative.

In selling the state as an investment location, he said, he highlights five points to close the deal.

One, geographic location – within 500 miles of 50% of the U.S. population and 30% of Canada’s. That’s a plus for supply chain issues.

Two, the low cost of doing business here. Workers Compensation rates are the fourth lowest in the country.

Three, the workforce. He acknowledges “we have to nuance the way we sell it maybe a little bit.” But national rankings recognize that West Virginia workers have a higher degree of loyalty to their jobs, with the lowest turnover of manufacturing jobs. And workers will drive further to get to a good job here than anywhere else in the U.S.

Four is a stable, safe, secure financial structure with secure state employee pension systems. While other states are burdened with pension debt, businesses know that here, “I’m not going to get dinged for the sins of the past,” or with pension-related tax hikes.

And five, the state is ranked nationally now as a top-10 state for locating a business.

“This is the most exciting, thrilling time to be a West Virginian,” he said.

Carmichael ticked off some of the same business developments Justice did on Thursday: Nucor, GreenPower Motor Co., Owens & Minor, Omnis Building Technologies, Klöckner Pentaplast, PepsiCo, Veloxint and Pure Watercraft.

Justice also mentioned that West Virginia reached the second-highest export growth rate of any state in the nation for 2021.

Speaking about the Economic Development Department, Graney told chamber members, “We’re small but we’re mighty.”

He never mentioned coal, but said, “We have truly a diversified economy, we just need more of it.” is a website where workers can learn about jobs here and employers can look for workers. It gets 50,000 hits a month. And is another site to learn about working and investing here.

To support business investment, he said, the state has received $27 million in federal funds for the Small Business Capital Initiative and is expecting another $27 million, and is in competition for another $20 million.

The newly reconstituted film office already has five applications for productions that will bring in $6 million in direct spending, he said.

Shovel-ready sites are still a challenge, he said, but the department has fostered a culture of “collaborating, cooperating, communicating,” not complaining and criticizing.

Graney listed all the industries at work here: aerospace, agriculture, automotive, building products, chemicals, defense, forest products, distribution fulfillment centers, information technology, metals.

And unlike the Gulf Coast, which regularly gets blasted and paralyzed by hurricanes, he said, West Virginia has overall climate stability, along with top-notch outdoor livability.

He said of the department, “We’re really, truly a concierge service: We match needs with resources.”

Story by David Beard, The Dominion Post


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