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Time to diversify state’s economy

During the pandemic, entrepreneurs across the country addressed financial challenges by starting their own businesses. In fact, 10% of U.S. workers are self-employed entrepreneurs now. But here in West Virginia, that number is considerably lower. According to a report by Commodity.com, only 6.8% of Mountain State workers are self-employed — the fewest of any state.

As in so many other categories, we are falling behind the rest of the country on this count, but we are not alone. Other states left behind during our decades-long economic transition — Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Indiana, for example — are near the bottom in the self-employment category, too.

Here’s where we stand: In 2020 there were 11,090 new business applications in West Virginia. That compares with an average of 85,428 per state throughout the rest of the nation. Median annual income for full-time business owners here is $45,000. It is $52,000 for the country as a whole.

Most of the new businesses being started in the U.S. are in either retail trade or professional, scientific and technical services. Officials in West Virginia have steadfastly resisted transitioning our old economy in those directions for years. Now, only the bravest of entrepreneurs feel confident enough to try something new in the Mountain State.

Public officials have a responsibility to institute regulatory reform and legislation that will foster the entrepreneurial spirit, not frighten it away.

We are used to looking up from the bottom here, and it is a shame. But despite the knowledge there is a long way to go, Mountaineers are brave, intelligent, creative and hard-working enough to get there — if politicians and the bureaucracy will get out of their way.

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