Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin today met with more than 600 business leaders from across the state at the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce's 77th Annual Meeting and Business Summit held at The Greenbrier.
Gov. Tomblin's remarks, as prepared for delivery, are included below:
"Richard, thank you for those kind words. To Steve Roberts, Brenda Harper, and the entire West Virginia Chamber of Commerce team--thank you for always putting West Virginia businesses, our communities, and our people--first.
"Let me begin this morning by saying "Thank You," to everyone here today. It's important I say it for two reasons: first, for being here--for being committed to the important work of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce; for being an engaged member of our state's business community who is concerned about the future of our state; and for being involved in making West Virginia a better place to live, work and do business.
"And second, let me thank you for investing in West Virginia. We don't say it enough, but because of you and the companies you represent, men and women are working and earning a living in West Virginia. They are providing for their families and helping their children go to college. You are making it possible for them to create a future here in our state.
"For my entire career in public service I have had one guiding principal that has driven my actions in the Legislature and now as Governor: I have always believed that an individual's future begins with a job. Because of that my goal has always been to encourage the creation of jobs and new opportunities in West Virginia. But as I have said before and I will say it again today: Our mission in state government is not to create jobs. Our mission is to create a business climate in this state that will encourage the private sector to create jobs.
"We have a role to play but it must be focused on creating a tax structure that is responsible and fair. Our role is to make sure the cost of doing business in our state is competitive. Our role must be to prepare our children and train our adults to be an effective force in our economy. Our role is to build a workforce that can compete in the global economy with a multitude of demands, a workforce that can function in a high tech environment that can be relied upon and is flexible and driven to produce a quality product at a fair price.
"I believe we've made measurable progress. When I travel across this country, in fact around the globe, encouraging new investments in our state it is clear that business leaders and decision makers are noticing the change in West Virginia. But the real measurement is here at home.
"I am constantly looking for new ways to tell the story about the good changes taking place in our state. I decided the best way to tell our story was to have the men and women who work and invest in West Virginia tell it for us. What you are about to see today is part of our story. It is the first time my office has shown it publicly. It is a story told by six men and women, who do business here. Some work for big companies that employ hundreds and some are entrepreneurs who have risked everything to start a new small business with a handful of hard working employees. Their views of life and business in West Virginia are unscripted and unrehearsed but they tell a powerful story about who we are as a state and what we have become.
"Those six people are helping us tell West Virginia's great story to the world. Today, I'm asking for your help in telling your story to the world.
"The facts we have to tell are clear: We have been conservative in the management of the state's budget and the results have been recognized. West Virginia ranks 3rd in the country and the best of all our surrounding states for budget health and cash reserves. We have been aggressive in reforming our Workers Compensation system and the results have been dramatic. West Virginia has gone from some of the highest rates in the nation to some of the lowest. Premium rates have fallen over 60 percent and businesses have saved over $250 million since the system was privatized in 2006. This year additional reductions were announced.
"We were prudent in the management of our Unemployment Trust Fund and the results allowed us to be one of only 18 states that weren't forced to borrow money to pay basic unemployment benefits and West Virginia businesses were spared the cost of propping up a poorly managed system. We managed our resources to meet our obligations and have systematically cut and eliminated taxes that were anti-business and unfair, a trend that will continue. We restructured our long-term debt including our pension's obligations. We refinanced some of our bond debt and saved millions. We were the first and only state to tackle our OPEB liabilities. Let me tell you, Wall Street has paid attention. West Virginia's bond ratings are now the best they've been in a half century.
"This is the story we have to tell to the world. It's a great story of perseverance and strategic thinking. It's a story that will help our state grow. And the State of West Virginia has the opportunity to grow.
"We are still the leader in this country in energy production and I am committed to making sure West Virginia remains a leader. Misguided policies in Washington won't change the fact that they need us to keep their lights on. An energy policy that doesn't recognize the essential role coal plays in moving this country towards energy independence is a flawed policy.
"Earlier this month, I spoke one-on-one with EPA Administrator Ms. Gina McCarthy during a trip to our nation's capital to address these flawed policies. I was encouraged by her willingness to sit down and listen to our concerns. It was a step in the right direction.
"The development of shale gas and the associated liquids like ethane and propane found in the Marcellus and Utica production also have enormous potential for us. I believe the abundance of these resources gives us, not only a low-cost energy source, but it gives us an opportunity to re-invigorate manufacturing in our state. We are working hard to develop the infrastructure that will support an entire industry for generations to come. Much of it is already in place. Plans for billions of dollars in investment are on the drawing board. We continue to work hard to bring the first cracker to the Appalachian basin to provide the feedstock for new manufacturing opportunities. We are working every day to make that happen and I am convinced it will happen.
"We have been a leader in this region of the country in putting reasonable and responsible rules in place to advance the development of this industry, but I extend a word of caution. We are not content to simply allow the resources of this state to be piped somewhere else to create manufacturing jobs. There are companies willing to create those jobs here and we believe we have a right to expect a partnership between those companies which are developing Marcellus and Utica resources and those companies who can use those resources to manufacture value-added products in our state.
"While our natural resources are and will remain a foundation of our economy, we continue to work to diversify and create new opportunities on multiple fronts. But we have more work to do.
"In education we face many challenges, too. If we are to prepare our children to be successful regardless of the path they choose to take, we must give them an education and the skills that will allow them to compete. For far too many, we aren't doing that.
"The fact is kids often make life-changing decisions in middle school. Our goal is to help young teens discover a connection between their personal interests and future career opportunities. Pilot projects are being established all across the state with colleges and universities partnering with private businesses. They're going into the classroom and showing our kids what jobs are available... and what skills are necessary to get these good jobs. This is where I need your help. I need more businesses reaching out and showing our middle school students that you can get a good job doing something you actually like.
"Our students want to learn. They dream of success and we have the power to help them make their dreams come true. Earlier this month, a young man from Lewisburg, named Joseph, emailed me. Joseph had participated in the Governor's Honors Academy, a three week program, created in 1984 by then Governor, now Senator, Jay Rockefeller. Governor Rockefeller's strategy, at the time, was to create a partnership between education and the business community, to develop a learning environment that would challenge some of our brightest students to grow intellectually, creatively, and socially. Many of the programs greatest architects and advocates are in this room today. Joseph wrote me and said
and I quote:
"I can't put into words how much I appreciate this experience. I'm now different....I'm better...I'm more."
This was just one of many letters from students and parents who want more. Many of those who have written to me are also excited and encouraged by the bill we created, and passed, that made significant reforms in our public school system.
"An optional full day, five day per week preschool program is available for our four year olds, providing opportunities for a solid foundation to start kindergarten. We revised our teacher education preparation programs at the college level to make sure our future teachers have specialized training in how to teach and invoke the love for reading. We know it is vital for our children to be able to read at grade level by the 3rd grade. And that they need to learn to read so they may read to learn.
"Our teachers support more local control and greater responsibility. They welcome personnel policies that encourage the hiring of the best teacher for every position .not just the person who has been around the longest. In a study released last week, out of the West Virginia high school students who took the ACT test only 24 percent had the skills in English, math and science that would allow them to be successful in college without remedial help. That is a sobering number and it's a number we have to change.
"Now, all 11th grade students in West Virginia will be tested on what they know so we can help them where they are struggling. You and your companies have a stake in this and in preparing our citizens, young and old, for the workforce. We must make certain all high school graduates are ready to enter the workforce and add value to our employers upon graduation or make a seamless transition into college or a vocational training program. That goal includes making sure that our students don't spend the first year of college--spending their time--or money--on remedial classes.
"We're working to make our higher education system more responsive to both students and to businesses. Our Community and Technical Colleges must be nimble and responsive to training needs around the state. Our workforce training programs must be responsive to the changing needs of our economy and efficiently utilize our resources.
"There is also a message along the way that we must deliver together. There are jobs in West Virginia. But you can be the valedictorian of your class or have the highest skills in your profession, and not get hired if you can't pass a drug test. So please, help me deliver that message, too.
"As part of my education reform efforts, I reinstituted the Governor's Workforce Planning council through executive order in March. As the Chairman of this council I work alongside top state government leaders who can make the changes necessary for government to respond more effectively to concerns of businesses in West Virginia. On your chair you will find a survey that will help us identify the specific workforce issues causing difficulty in finding qualified employees.
"I know -- you are thinking -- not ANOTHER survey. But I assure you, the data we gather from this will be reviewed with great detail by me and members of this council. I don't want you to fill this out while you're here and please don't hand this survey off to your HR department. I want to hear directly from you. You and your plant managers know specifically what you need. Thank you in advance for taking the time to visit my website, governor.wv.gov, to give us this critical workforce information.
"In the almost three years since I became Governor, West Virginia has witnessed billions of dollars in new investment and thousands of new jobs. We have an unbelievable story to tell from our state's greatest asset: her people. Thank you again for allowing me to join you and thank you for continuing the work you do every day to make West Virginia different .better .more."