By Brad D. Smith
When I think of West Virginia, I see two images; the amazing place we are today and the even greater version of which we are capable. We are a proud state with humble people and modest beginnings. As a result, we are often underestimated and yet, we repeatedly overachieve.
Nowhere has that been more evident than in the movement started several years ago to reimagine a new chapter for our state. The goal was to reignite the dreamer and doer in each of us, simultaneously honoring inspiration and perspiration. We wanted and needed a next chapter of greatness for West Virginia. We knew we could build on our proud history of national and international contributions, while taking our place in the 21st century economy.
There was, of course, some skepticism and doubt. These ideas were not the things we had tried before, and in some cases, the aspiration felt a bit out of reach. In life, there are those who must see it to believe it, and then there are others who have found that if you believe it, you will see it.
Those believers—our friends and neighbors—saw the potential for renewed prosperity. Educational institutions formed partnerships; businesses and nonprofits came together in dynamic collaborations; and those living in the state worked beside West Virginians who had moved away to help set the wheels in motion.
While there is much to do, these efforts are paying off. We are writing a new narrative and are transforming ourselves in the process.
Over the past few years, West Virginia has seen multiple million-dollar economic development investments. There is Virgin Hyperloop and its $500 million certification center for Grant and Tucker counties; Ascend West Virginia and its campaign to attract remote workers; DataRobot’s entry into Morgantown and Infor’s office in Charleston. These new enterprises are just a few examples of the exciting growth we are seeing in our state.
Taken in total, the momentum is building. This [month’s] announcements of prominent economic development projects headed for West Virginia is a milestone moment. Each development is exciting on its own, but to have multiple announcements in one week is inspiring.
These companies are ready to do business and West Virginia is ready to host them. By structuring economic incentive packages that demand accountability on both sides, everyone is positioned for a win. These incentive programs will pay off. The math is there.
These projects will create thousands of new, high-paying jobs, funding infusions from top global companies, environmentally friendly industries and investment in a West Virginia that is ready for accelerated movement and an updated version of itself.
You are the talent. This is your time. Our past is the gateway to our future.
As with any change, there will be skepticism. But, if you look at the momentum we have built and the progress we are experiencing, it is the time for all West Virginians to believe it and see it.
And for those outside of West Virginia, we invite you to join us. If you are a company looking for world-class talent and an agile workforce, welcoming communities and a high quality of life, we invite you to come to West Virginia. You will be glad you did.
Brad D. Smith is president of Marshall University.
Jan. 27, 2022