Policy & Progress series held in Charles Town
Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races hosted a statewide business leadership series last Wednesday where business leaders, citizens and elected officials participated in panel discussions. Focus of the sessions centered on a variety of topics including tax reform, education, legal and regulatory reform worksforce freedom and infrastructure and development.
The event, co-hosted by the West Virginia Business and Industry Council and the Eastern Panhandle Business Association, had keynote speaker Attorney General Patrick Morrisey discussion the critical need for legal reform in West Virginia.
“Legal reform is critical, as are many other areas of reform to help lift the state economically,” Morrisey said.
He spoke of the fact that West Virginia pays more per capita for state government than any other state.
“We need to root out bad spending, especially in legislative agencies,” Morrisey stressed. “We need to go after fraud, waste and abuse.”
Sharing the podium as keynote speakers were also House Speaker Tim Armstead and Senate President Bill Cole.
Armstead indicated that the Republican leadership that took over in Charleston after the 2014 election changed how the legislature works. He said that the new leadership has made energy a priority with their first action being the repeal of West Virginia’s version of the cap and trade bill that had previously been signed intolaw.
Cole, who is seeking the governor’s seat in 2016, commended the bipartisan relationships that have risen since the Republicans took over in both the House and Senate.
“There were previous decades of the ‘my way or the highway’ approach,” Cole said. “No one person or party has all the right ideas.” He continued, saying compromise is about the best ideas coming together.
Much time during the afternoon-long session focused on the economy and bringing jobs to not only the Eastern Panhandle, but the entire state. Proponents of the proposed “brunch bill” spoke about the need to change the law that prohibits alcohol sales before 1 p.m. on Sundays.
Speaking to that end, Jefferson County Convention and Visitors Bureau director Annette Gavin said that not allowing the sale of alcohol is destroying the tourism industry. She indicated that people will not come to the area if they cannot get drinks with their brunch at local restaurants or cannot visit distilleries and potential wineries before the afternoon hours.
Much time was spent discussion infrastructure and economic development in the Panhandle, especially. Both John Reisenweber and Steve Christian, directors of Jefferson and Berkeley Development Authorities, spoke about the need for improved infrastructure to entice businesses to come to the area. Natural gas is a crucial need for manufacturing jobs, they both stated.
When questioned about more tech savvy jobs and the possibility of developing office space for high-tech jobs, Christian said there were not enough workers located in the area to secure business location here. That belief was met with immediate rebuttal from audience members who stressed that commuters out of the Panhandle would stay here for those hi-tech jobs if they were offered here.
Reisenweber stressed that federal jobs are one of his main focuses, citing the opening of the Coast Guard facility last year. Jefferson County is the home of many federal facilities; however, the federal agencies add very little to the economy because they pay very small amounts in lieu of taxes.
Other topics that received a good bit of discussion included Right to Work laws and education.
Policy and Progress panel discussions will be hosted by the West Virginia Business and Industry Council at other locations in West Virginia, with the next event scheduled for Sept. 10 in Bluefield.