West Virginia Looks to the Future

December 16, 2013 | 2:14 pm
Jeremy Richardson
Former UCS Fellow & Energy Analyst

What does a clean energy future look like in Coal Country, and what options exist for diversifying the economy? West Virginia leaders gathered back in September to discuss just these questions, and UCS has just released a new report summarizing their conversations.

On September 3-4, in partnership with the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy and the West Virginia Community Development Hub, UCS organized A Bright Economic Future for the Mountain State. The event brought together an engaging series of presentations and panels that laid out visions for West Virginia’s future, identified pathways for achieving those visions, and celebrated forward-looking community leaders already creating that future today.

Some 200 people — representing an unusually diverse mix of perspectives — attended the forum’s keynote addresses, three panel discussions, and documentary screening. Speakers and other attendees included business owners, energy industry executives, state and local officials, members of faith communities, labor representatives, academics, environmentalists, and individuals from nonprofits spearheading local economic development.

The future is bright

Four themes emerged from the discussions that took place at the event:

1)      West Virginia must have a vision to carry it through the challenge of fostering a future that will inevitably look different from the past.

2)      Regional and local leaders are beginning to spur and create new businesses and jobs, but they desperately need state leadership to ease the transition to a more diversified economy.

3)      West Virginia has tremendous assets that it can mobilize in building such an economy.

4)      The state also faces multiple challenges that it must address in a comprehensive way.

Read the summary report to learn more about the themes that emerged from the forum.

The time is right

Attendees to the Bright Economic Future forum gather for the opening keynote address.

Attendees at the Bright Economic Future forum gather for the opening keynote address.

Given the large number of attendees, it’s clear that many people in West Virginia want to talk about creating additional economic opportunities in the place we call home.

Our public survey results from this summer, showing that voters support taxes on natural resource extraction that invest in infrastructure and economic development, underscore this willingness to focus on and plan for the future. Media interest in the event was strong, and it was featured on the front page of the Charleston Gazette back in September. The Gazette ran several other articles surrounding the forum, including a discussion of the Future Fund and the documentary screening; editorials appeared in other print outlets as well.

What’s next

Similar discussions are sweeping the Appalachian region, notably including the recent Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) summit in eastern Kentucky. Governor Steve Beshear and U.S. Congressman Hal Rogers attended the SOAR summit and directly addressed the critical need for economic diversification in the eastern Kentucky coalfields, which have seen massive mine worker layoffs since 2011.

UCS hopes that the event in West Virginia is only the start of a deeper conversation in the state and a broader conversation in the region. Even in the heart of coal country, people recognize that things are changing. I believe that by concentrating on the opportunities as well as the challenges that lie ahead, our state and region can ensure a vibrant future for generations to come.