Increasing our exports

West Virginia State Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, thinks an upcoming trip to Taiwan “might be a golden opportunity.” He is right.

Kessler and two other legislators have taken the Taiwanese government up on one of the offers it makes periodically to host state officials. The Mountain State group will spend a week in Taipei, during which they will meet with some of that country’s business leaders. Stops at an energy company and some furniture manufacturers are planned.

One potential West Virginia export, natural gas, virtually sells itself. And Mountain State coal also is sought after by industries in some other countries.

The golden opportunity may involve timber and other wood products.

Wood products are a $3.2 billion-a-year industry in West Virginia, but there is room for growth in exports. While wood products worth $107.7 million were exported from the state in 2004, the value had fallen to $85 million last year.

Though abusive forestry once denuded many Mountain State hillsides, the industry has made a self-sustaining comeback. It now employs about 30,000 people, according to the state Division of Forestry.

Taiwan has “a great need for timber and hardwoods,” Kessler noted. Personal contacts of the type he and other lawmakers will make could result in more sales of West Virginia timber in

Taiwan and elsewhere.