West Virginia needs to overcome the “We’re last and proud” syndrome as it tries to become a greater economic power in the nation.
That’s the word from E. Gordon Gee, president of West Virginia University, who discussed the West Virginia Forward initiative with reporters during Academic Media Day on June 11.
West Virginia Forward attempts to tie together all facets of the state from education to business to government to culture and the work force to help the state prosper.
Gee said West Virginia has been surpassed by California as the nation’s worst place to do business. That should be cause for some joy, but often such news is greeted with dark humor.
Gee says that has to stop.
He calls it “negative elitism,” and it’s the sort of perverse pride that rises from being in the worst place for so long that one becomes proud of being there.
Gee noted the state has 20,000 jobs available and there are not enough people to fill them, because of inadequate training for the positions.
That means the state has work to do, led by WVU and Marshall University right down to local schools, to be sure the workers are available when the jobs are. It means anticipating the future instead of waiting for the future.
Of course, it takes time to change a culture, and Gee admits it will take time for the results of West Virginia Forward to be known.
He said a setback in dealing with the state for legislation was felt in the bitter teachers’ strike earlier this year.
Still, West Virginia Forward is about focusing on the state’s assets, such as what the Boy Scouts of America saw when they picked a site in southern West Virginia for its national reserve. It’s a beautiful state with hardworking people, energy resources and a great location, for instance.
Gee says it could be five more years before change begins to take hold.
Meanwhile, look for those signs of improvement and be proud of those as they happen.