State leaders and some big names from outside West Virginia had a frank conversation Wednesday as they discussed what the state needs in order to diversify its economy, attract growing industries and foster small businesses in the Mountain State.
The speakers at the event, which was sponsored by Techconnect West Virginia and held at the Bridge Valley Community & Technical College in South Charleston, included gubernatorial candidate Bill Cole, Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette, leaders from West Virginia University and Marshall University and the CEOs of major information technology companies.
There was one basic message throughout the entire event: West Virginia needs to make public and private investments in order to be successful in moving forward.
“I know we have challenges. I know there are struggles. I know there is a transition underway,” said Brad Smith, the CEO of Intuit. “But for us to get there, we are going to have to embrace change. We are going to have to lean into the unknown.”
Smith, a native of Kenova, is a Marshall University graduate and CEO of a major company that manages financial software like Turbo Tax. On Wednesday, the successful business executive told the crowd that there were three things West Virginia needs: investment in education, modern infrastructure and local entrepreneurs.
The legislative and political debate in the state has continued to center around somehow resurrecting coal markets that most economists believe will never return to full strength, especially in southern West Virginia where seams of coal have been mined for more than 100 years.
In contrast, all of the panel discussions Wednesday remained focused on finding a path forward by building the workforce and infrastructure needed to attract and grow businesses that are expected to expand in the coming decades, namely technology companies.
Even Cole, the Republican candidate for governor, whose party has led the campaign against President Barack Obama’s regulations on carbon emissions, suggested that it was time for West Virginia to seriously look for other business opportunities…
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