Gee says West Virginia needs to turn apathy into ambition
WHEELING — West Virginia University will help the state turn “apathy into ambition and recession into recovery,” WVU President E. Gordon Gee vowed Monday during his fall “State of the University” address.
Speaking before the WVU Faculty Senate, Gee said West Virginians need to be more proud of themselves because of all the state offers, including its natural beauty and the potential for economic growth — particularly related to the Marcellus and Utica shale boom in the Northern Panhandle and around the region.
“We have exported coal, oil, gas and talent. We have to think of ourselves as a destination,” Gee said.
Gee said a new university’s report, “West Virginia Forward,” should be complete this month. He said some of the recommendations in the report include: diversifying the economy in the areas such as cybersecurity and high-end tourism; improving the quality and skill of the existing workforce; and continued growth in “downstream manufacturing” related to the natural gas industry.
On Aug. 29, WVU researchers revealed recommended areas in which to build ethane storage caverns in West Virginia, with two of the three primary zones including Northern Panhandle counties.
Organizers said the storage hub could ultimately help create more than 100,000 permanent jobs throughout the region.
Gee said the Mountain State faces three main obstacles in its effort to grow and prosper:
• Negative elitism, which he said manifests as being unable to “understand why anyone would want to work or live here”;
• A lack of “intestinal fortitude,” which he said results because many are afraid to “upset the apple cart” of the status quo; and
• An unwillingness to try something new for fear of failure.
“I know this to be certain: If we can create jobs and the space where businesses can thrive, West Virginians will come home,” Gee said.
In addition, Gee said West Virginia suffers from “several interlocking crises,” including economic stagnation, an opioid abuse epidemic that continues claiming lives, educational disparities and “staggering health threats.”
“As West Virginia’s flagship, land-grant university, we exist to improve lives in our state by strengthening education, delivering health care and advancing our citizens into prosperity,” he said.
As for the university itself, Gee said WVU this year welcomed more than 6,200 first-time freshmen this year, which he said is a record number. He said this is quite an accomplishment because the university has seen state funding cut by $38 million in the last four years amid West Virginia’s budgetary challenges.
“And our faculty researchers demonstrated where curiosity can lead through groundbreaking work involving rare-earth elements, leukemia treatment, greenhouse gases, disaster-resistant structures, gravitational waves and many other fields of knowledge,” he said of the university’s accomplishments.