West Virginia editorial roundup
Posted October 4
Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
The Charleston Gazette on a Toyota plant in Buffalo and an aerospace training center in Huntington:
The first plant in the country to make transaxles for hybrid cars will be in Buffalo, West Virginia. That is the kind of news we like to hear.
Toyota announced a $115 million project to make transaxles that enable hybrid cars to switch from gasoline power to electric battery and even to generate electricity while driving. The project should lower production costs for cars made at Toyota's Princeton, Indiana, plant.
As staff writer Max Garland reported, Toyota doesn't expect to hire more people for the project, but it's still exciting news.
"The key thing for us is it keeps us relevant," said plant General Manager Don Stewart.
The 21-year-old Buffalo Toyota plant — and its 1,600 workers — are adapting to the manufacturer's future needs. Can you believe it has been 21 years already?
Leah Curry, president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia, said the ability to make these transaxles is the path to the next generation of vehicles — hybrid technology that makes more use of renewable energy.
The investment in West Virginia is part of a larger effort by Toyota, which is spending $10 billion in U.S. projects.
Meanwhile the Robert C. Byrd Institute announced that it has won a $500,000 U.S. Economic Development Administration grant to establish RCBI AERO, an aerospace training center in Huntington.
The goal is to parlay the grant into $1 million of private investment in a regional aerospace industry. Imagine aircraft repair or aerospace manufacturing fueling the economy of Cabell and Wayne counties.
These are significant steps in a longer process of reworking and retooling the regional economy. Earlier investments of time and effort are paying off.
Charleston Daily Mail on hurricane responders from West Virginia:
As Hurricane Irma was bearing down toward Florida, about two dozen emergency responders, including 17 from Kanawha County, took 10 ambulances and headed to Tallahassee to be there to help.
And help those responders did, as well as two ambulances from Jan-Care in Beckley, and another from Logan County EMS, and more. Meanwhile, Appalachian Power sent crews to Florida to help restore power.
And before Hurricane Maria angrily crossed the island of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, a crew from the West Virginia Army National Guard, still in the region from responding to Hurricane Irma, dropped in and hunkered down. They rode the storm out in a shelter and worked afterward.
The island territory was devastated from the storm, and their presence was needed, as the island's residents didn't have the support that people in West Virginia typically have after a natural disaster.
"In West Virginia you'll have a lot of locals to come in with loaders and chainsaws. The response is great back home, but you didn't have that in the Virgin Islands because the whole island got wiped out," Lt. Dwight Siemiaczko told WVMetronews. "That's one thing I noticed is back in West Virginia everybody chips in to help and it makes it much faster and much easier."
There's been a spate of storms lately, and folks from West Virginia have been among the best and quickest to offer help. Whether responding to Harvey, Irma, Maria or whatever storm, hats off to all the West Virginia emergency responders who leave the Mountain State to go help others. Their efforts were noted in those areas, and highly appreciated.
The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington on a study by the Commerce department, West Virginia University and Marshall University on the state's economy:
The findings of a study done at the behest of a West Virginia state agency and its two largest universities spell out what officials describe as a path forward to diversify and grow the state's economy, but amid the opportunities spelled out in the report are also significant challenges.
Neither the listed opportunities nor the challenges were necessarily new, at least in broad strokes, but what could be cause for optimism is that the partners in this initiative recognize the hard work ahead. And they say they are committed to doing that work.
The presentation at the state Capitol was called "West Virginia Forward: Maximizing our Opportunities for Prosperity." The initiative is a collaboration involving the state's Department of Commerce and West Virginia University and Marshall University, with a private consulting firm, McKinsey and Co. authoring the report. It was paid for with private donations. WVU President Gordon Gee and Marshall President Jerome A. Gilbert, who both have said their respective universities should take leading roles in developing solutions to the state's myriad problems, were among the presenters.
In terms of industries that could be a focus for economic development efforts, the study identified "higher-end tourism"; the manufacture of carbon fiber reinforced plastic used in the aerospace, automotive, civil engineering, sports goods and other products; the production of fine chemicals; and high technology fields such as cybersecurity.
The study also touted the state's assets, such as relatively low employee turnover, lower labor costs, lower than average cost of living and cost of doing business, and a business tax climate that ranks better than those of neighboring states. It also touched upon the state's weaknesses, including poor infrastructure of various kinds (roads, bridges, lack of broadband internet), lower than average education levels, and a lack of land ready for business development.
It's evident from those two lists that gaps exist. For example, low education levels and poor or non-existent broadband internet capabilities could make it difficult to attract high-technology businesses.
That's where the hard work comes in. If West Virginia is to make significant strides in developing its economy, it must tackle such longstanding issues as education and the lack of broadband and ready-to-build industrial sites. Gee, speaking at the press conference, said state officials and residents need to be optimistic about the future, but more than a positive outlook will be required. "What we now have to do is, we have to not talk about a bright future but about the hard work that will make that future bright and give people hope," he said.
Toward that end, WVU, MU and the Department of Commerce intend to develop and sign a memorandum of understanding committing each to begin tackling the initiatives spelled out in the study. They already have formed implementation groups for key sectors and plan to enlist a wide-ranging group of organizations and individuals to work on the specific goals, as well as seek the help of communities throughout the state.
Also on the to-do list is establishing a structure of accountability for the work that needs to be done - an important step if this initiative is to go further than similar endeavors taken on by others in the past.
As Gee noted, the state is in the midst of an economic crisis; urgent action is indeed needed.