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Justice seeking more information on Virgin Hyperloop layoffs

Gov. Jim Justice is seeking an update on Virgin Hyperloop’s future plans for development in West Virginia, as the transportation technology company recently announced layoffs and a change in business strategy.

That shift has created some questions as to the future of a proposed hyperloop certification center in the state.

Business industry reports state Virgin Hyperloop last week laid off 100 of its employees representing half of its staff. Additionally, the company plans to switch its focus from passenger transportation to cargo carriage.

Virgin Hyperloop announced in 2020 it would build a hyperloop certification center on 800 acres of land located in Tucker and Grant counties in West Virginia, with a projected opening in about five years.

Hyperloop technology has the potential of moving both people and cargo through vacuum tubes across the nation at speeds of more than 600 miles per hour, according to information on the company’s website. West Virginia University and other colleges and universities have been collaborating with Virgin Hyperloop on construction of the facility.

During his regular online briefing with state media Wednesday, Justice was asked about the future of Virgin Hyperloop in the Mountain State. Justice said he needed more information on the company’s plans and planned to speak with WVU officials before Friday about the project.

But Justice – himself an owner of many companies – expressed optimism that Virgin Hyperloop wasn’t done with work in West Virginia.

He explained in business you “have ebb and flow all along,” and that West Virginia officials worked hard to bring the Virgin Hyperloop facility to the state.

“We won that battle, did we not?” he asked. “They announced they are coming, and they have spent a bunch of money here. With that, things (in company plans) are going to change.

“I hate to say it this way, but poop happens,” he said. “It just does. From their standpoint of pivoting from passenger to cargo – it could accelerate the project to the point it greatly benefits us. Or things slow down and we have to go a whole new way.”

He suggested those in business often have “to fish with lots of lines and lots of diligence,” and that this often results “in surprises for the good.”

“Maybe this gives them (Virgin Hyperloop) a pathway that is faster to doing more good for the world,” Justice said. “It’s all part of the business world. They are doing what they’ve got to do.”

Talk about Virgin Hyperloop and development seemingly eclipsed talk COVID-19 during Justice’s briefing, usually reserved for discussing the disease. He began Wednesday’s discussion by announcing there had been 67 more deaths from COVID in the state since Monday, bringing the state’s total to 6,250.

The number of current active cases in the state is down to 3,574. At one time the number approached 30,000, and Justice called this “a big-time drop.” The daily COVID positivity rate sat at 6.84% Wednesday. There were 596 in the state hospitalized with the virus, and among these 135 were in intensive care units and 78 on ventilators.

Justice also announced that 27 of the state’s 55 counties now are listed as green, the lowest-risk category on the Department of Health and Human Services COVID alert map. He said he doesn’t believe the state is done with the virus, but that state officials do see improvements in the numbers.

“The number of deaths will trail, and we will still escalate a little bit,” Justice said. “But we are making progress and maybe the skies are looking better.”

Justice spoke of his trip to Parsons Wednesday, where he announced the bid award for over $147 million for the Corridor H Cheat River Bridge Project.

Among those joining him were U.S. Sen. Shelley Capito and U.S. Rep. David B. McKinley, both R-W.Va. He praised McKinley for having courage in the House to be one of just 13 Republicans to vote for the infrastructure funding bill that made the project possible.

“I have endorsed Congressman McKinley,” Justice said. “It brings real dollars to West Virginia. Sen. Capito voted for it. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) voted for it. I would have voted for it.

“My buddy, (former) President Trump, wasn’t on board. He and myself, maybe we can differ on ideas once in a while. But there is no question this would be good for West Virginia.”

McKinley “got a lot of pressure” to vote against the infrastructure bill, Justice continued.

“But he absolutely decided to stay rock solid with West Virginia,” he said. “So did Shelley, so did Joe, and so would have I.

“At the end of the day, none of us like all the garbage and bells and whistles that come with this. But for West Virginia – this state – we couldn’t have afforded to miss on this,” Justice said.

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