The Joint Committee on Technology heard some of the findings and the recommendations from a Harvard Case Study: “West Virginia: Finding the Right Path Forward.”
First, it was stated that West Virginia needs both small and big businesses. Larger businesses or trading jobs, such as the coal industry and software, make up one-third of the US job market. These jobs pay 70 percent more than local jobs. Trade jobs increase the market for local jobs. Trade jobs are facing digitalization in every industry. Small businesses or “local jobs” such as your local markets and barber shops, make up the majority of the job market and will always be an important part of the economic strategy. A healthy economic model needs both types of businesses. To build this model, a collaboration between the state and counties is needed, along with a skilled labor force.
The presenters spoke about the opportunities for an expanded energy economy in the state. As coal has declined, natural gas has increased. West Virginia produces 12 percent of the US’s coal and 7 percent of the US’s natural gas. Natural gas is continuing to grow because it is the cheapest form of firm power. Gas is coal’s biggest competitor. Since WV also has a lot of natural gas, the state can benefit for years to come.
A global search for energy security has begun. Europe has pulled away from receiving energy sources from Russia and is searching for a new provider. The US sends 70 percent of liquid gas to Europe. To remain competitive in the natural gas field, a “responsibly source gas (RSG)” certification is needed. The certification is for producers operating in the most environmentally safe way and working to reduce emissions. India is facing a coal shortage. Asia is industrializing and in need of met-coal for steel production. This is an opportunity for WV.
West Virginia has an opportunity with solar production as well. Currently, China dominates solar production due to cheap labor or forced labor and cheap coal. The US has begun banning solar products from China because of forced labor. This means the silicone products needed for solar energy must come from the US, Europe, or Southeastern Asia. West Virginia has the sand and the energy needed to produce the silicone, which can be shipped in the US or globally.
Wind turbine jobs are the second fasting growing jobs. West Virginia has the wind resources to participate in turbines. WV’s participation would create new jobs, as well as support other industries such as steel, construction, and concrete. Wind turbines increase property tax revenues and are more attractive to corporates looking for clean energy options.
The recommendation for coal communities is to turn them into the premier destination for outdoor activities. WV’s mountains are a huge asset. Tourism activities such as ziplining, hiking, ATV riding, and more can take place in these communities.
In addition to these recommendations, the presenters recommended investing in education to support workers, executives, and families.