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To Grow Our Economy, We Have to Invest in Ourselves


Location: Unknown

Twice, since the Republican majority took control of the U.S. House of Representatives, the House has passed -- and the Senate has rightly rejected -- a budget that would impose sweeping and arbitrary cuts in Federal programs that are important to job creation and economic development in southern West Virginia.

The so-called Ryan budget, named for House Budget Committee Chairman and Republican Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan, would slash funding for highway construction and road improvements, water and wastewater infrastructure, broadband deployment, education and workforce investments, and a host of economic development programs that are necessary to attract new businesses and create additional job opportunities in southern West Virginia.

Certainly, we should eliminate wasteful spending, along with abusive, special-interest tax breaks, but we also have to be smart about it. We must grow the economy to balance the budget, and that means investing in ourselves -- our workforce, our entrepreneurs and small businesses, and our economic future.

Recently, at the Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Flexible Manufacturing (RCBI) in Huntington, I asked the heads of three Federal agencies to join me, along with small business owners, community nonprofits, and local officials, in discussing a new Federal initiative aimed at creating jobs in southern West Virginia.

The event was designed to highlight the Rural Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge. This is a pioneering effort to pool the resources of three economic development agencies -- the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA), Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development -- in order to spur job creation and innovation through public-private partnerships. The idea is to grow and develop niche sectors of the economy in southern West Virginia -- so-called industry clusters like tourism, advanced manufacturing, and agribusiness -- by leveraging local assets and making available technical assistance, access to capital, and workforce training to small businesses and entrepreneurs.

It builds on a similar initiative I successfully championed recently to establish an EDA University Center at Marshall and Concord Universities and the Robert C. Byrd Institute. With funding I helped to secure, small businesses and entrepreneurs can benefit from the resources -- the skilled and experienced staff and high-tech laboratories and equipment -- at Marshall, Concord, and the RCBI to take advantage of opportunities that may arise in local markets.

I fought hard in supporting the Rural Jobs initiative and was proud to announce the award of Federal funds for two West Virginia applicants -- Southern West Virginia Rural Jobs Accelerator, and the West Virginia Value Chain Cluster Initiative -- local public-private partnerships that can yield new economic opportunities for our region.

In this time of budget austerity, we must use scare resources wisely, and that's the goal of the EDA University Center and the Rural Jobs initiative -- to foster local partnerships that can leverage Federal funds in facilitating economic growth and job creation.

After thirty-six years representing the interests of southern West Virginia in the Congress, and as the top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I well understand the harm that the erratic cuts included in the Ryan budget would impose on our State -- disrupting long-sought after and broadly supported goals of building and completing our highway and water infrastructure and stymieing economic opportunities that I hear repeatedly advocated in newspaper editorials and by the community at large.

I intend to keep fighting hard against such harmful budget cuts. You can count on that.

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