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Forging a new, better West Virginia

West Virginia is in desperate need of economic diversity and growth — and multiple new revenue streams.

That kind of change does not come from turning back to the way things have always been done. It comes from forging new paths with new ideas and energy.

But, according to WalletHub, the Mountain State is one of the worst in the country at doing so.

In its list of most innovative states, WalletHub placed West Virginia near the bottom, at 48th. Though we pride ourselves on our smart, capable workforce, the state’s “human capital” ranked 44th on the list. In terms of “innovation environment,” we placed 50th.

When we talk about how employers and potential residents view West Virginia, it is 47th for its share of STEM professionals, 47th for its share of technology companies, 49th for research and development spending per capita and 50th for venture-capital funding per capita.

These numbers are not so dismal because our people are not capable of excelling in new fields. What is holding us back?

Local school districts are doing a better job of teaching our kids science, technology, engineering and mathematics; but there is room for improvement. Institutions of higher learning are looking for ways to provide the real-world training students of all ages need for a changed employment landscape; but doing it without crippling debt for those students is a challenge.

Perhaps the most difficult obstacle to overcome will be the socio-cultural resistance to encouraging children (and older family members who have lost their jobs) to explore these new fields. We’re known for being smart and capable — but we’re also known for a bit of stubborn pride. Politicians who bow to lobbyists and play to that stubborn pride, rather than working toward doing what they know would truly propel West Virginia into the world of modern work, are even more guilty. But they can make a difference, should they so choose.

They can, if they choose, make the decisions that will turn rankings such as WalletHub’s on their heads.

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