CHARLESTON – The final two planks of the House of Delegates Leadership’s 2014 legislative agenda involve aggressive and proactive measures to build on West Virginia’s assets in business and industry to move our economy forward.
“Our agenda is based on how best to FEED West Virginia’s economy by evaluating legislation based on the acronym F.E.E.D. – Families, Education, Energy, and Developing our economy,” House Speaker Tim Miley said.
Does it benefit families and/or our communities?
Does it expand academic opportunities for our students and provide much-needed support to our educational system?
Does it bolster our state’s energy industry?
Does it spark economic development in a meaningful way?”
The leadership team proposes at least a dozen measures that fall under the final two letters of the acronym.
“In order to continue our focus on our state's natural resources, a standing committee on energy is being created so that it can focus solely on all issues related to energy,” Speaker Miley said. “By doing so, it will cause the introduction of legislation to occur that also focuses solely on energy, including several proposals from our leadership team.”
Delegate Kevin Craig, who is vice president for business development for Natural Resource Partners in Cabell County, will chair the committee.
“The energy industry is so vital to our state, so it makes perfect sense to establish a standing committee that can direct all its attention to the issues that affect that sector,” Craig said. “I am looking forward to getting to work.”
Industry Specific Training/Workforce Preparedness
As the oil and gas industry continues to grow at a rapid pace in the northern part of our state, training programs must be implemented at both the high school and community and technical college levels that are specific to the oil and gas industry, as well as those tangential businesses and industries that support the oil and gas industry, noted Delegate Phil Diserio of Brooke County.
“Two of our community and technical colleges in the northern part of the state have created associates degrees to prepare students for employment in the oil and gas industry, however, the vo-tech training at our high school level also needs to be modified to include the new skills necessary to secure employment in the burgeoning oil and gas industry,” he said.
The state also should invest more in the retraining of older workers who need to transition from their current/former employment to the skills necessary to succeed in the oil and gas industry.
“While some of these retraining facilities are located in those parts of the state that are suffering a decline in economic activity, primarily within the coal industry, more money needs to directed to this effort,” Diserio said.
Delegate Kevin Craig, said House leadership concurs with the Senate leadership and sees potential in a future fund that creates a source of revenue generated by the oil and gas industry but which doesn’t increase the cost of producing oil and gas in the state.
“The use of the revenue from the future fund can be for many different activities, but should certainly be utilized in areas that serve as an investment in our state's future, such as education, teacher salaries, and infrastructure,” he said.
“The Legislature will review permitting processes and take steps to ensure that permits are granted in a s responsible yet expeditious manner so that capital does not sit idle,” Miley said.
“It is imperative that those businesses within the energy sector that need to secure permits for their business activities be able to apply and obtain such permits in a prompt and expeditious manner,” Delegate Craig added. “Any delay in the permitting process only causes money and property to be idle and not be engaged in our local and state economy.”
Energy Industry Health & Safety Commission
One of the methods to ensure worker safety is the creation of an energy industry health and safety commission, made up of legislators from the House and Senate, to help the Legislature remain vigilant regarding safety concerns with both the coal and natural gas extraction industries.
The commission would meet quarterly and be provided information regarding fatalities and serious injuries that occur in our energy industry in West Virginia.
“The workers in these industries are the most critical component to the economic success of those industries, and the Legislature has a moral imperative to do everything possible to provide them with a safe and healthy work environment,” House Majority Whip Mike Caputo said. “By being kept apprised of these matters, the committee can determine if legislation will be necessary to prevent these accidents.”
Developing West Virginia’s Economy
“We don’t want to just talk among ourselves about the need to encourage meaningful economic development in West Virginia,” Speaker Miley said. “We are facilitating a frank discussion, reaching out to all business sectors, and are very encouraged by the likelihood of industry-specific legislation that will result from the Small Business, Entrepreneurship and Economic Development Committee.”
Standing Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship
Never before has there been a committee within the House of Delegates whose sole focus and dedication is to the exploration, implementation, and passage of legislation that is geared solely to benefit, foster and enhance the success of small businesses and entrepreneurs.
At the beginning of the 2014 legislative session, the House of Delegates will create a separate standing committee to address all matters related to small businesses, entrepreneurship, and economic development.
“By creating this stand alone and narrowly tailored committee, more legislators will hopefully be inspired to introduce legislation that enhances the likelihood of success for small businesses and entrepreneurs,” Miley said. “In the past, very few, if any, pieces of legislation were introduced were directed solely to benefit small businesses. Most legislation which gets introduced and which is intended to help businesses usually only benefits large corporations.
“The creation of this standing committee will, or should, result in meaningful pieces of legislation for small businesses.”
To assist in identifying areas of legislative need, there is a work group, chaired by Delegate Doug Skaff, that is developing a listening tour around the state to meet with small business owners and budding entrepreneurs.
“We want to help identify problems that are unique and discrete to various small businesses in our communities,” Skaff said. “At the end of the tour, we will be armed with many suggestions that can be put into legislative form and implemented as policy.”
Project Launch Pad/Economic Clusters Task Force
Greater analysis of certain economic and business clusters is needed in order to better plan how to foster success within those areas.
“The economic cluster concept is proving to be a successful model in developing a state's economy,” said Delegate Skaff said. “The Project Launch Pad legislation is perfect to support that concept.”
Project launch pad is a concept that provides incentives for business development and growth in discrete industry-specific areas as well as specific geographic areas.
“Project launch pad legislation will create environments in which entrepreneurs can flourish and innovative businesses and technologies will expand into West Virginia,” Skaff said.
Entrepreneurship in Education
Delegate Adam Young, an educator who serves on the Governor ’s new Commission on the Middle Grades, said there is a need for legislation that encourages, if not mandates, entrepreneurship education in our middle and high school curriculum.
“One is never too young to begin developing the entrepreneurial spirit, and we often overlook the opportunity to encourage students to become entrepreneurs while still in school,” Delegate Young said. “Our economy in this state, as well as in this country, is one based on a mobile concept and which is readily and comfortably embraced by the younger generation, which is now more than ever poised to launch entrepreneurial endeavors much earlier in life.”
The Legislature should continue funding the West Virginia Capital Access Program by either creating a new revenue stream or diverting a current revenue stream into that fund.
“The West Virginia Capital Access Program has been successful in partnering with private investment dollars to leverage those public funds into much greater economic investment,” said Delegate Jason Barrett, who will be serving on new standing committee.
“In order to sustain the West Virginia Capital Access Program, we must obviously establish criteria which minimizes the risk of exposure to state funds. However, given the success of attracting private investment dollars, funding the WVCAP is a ‘no-brainer.’ ”
State Contracts with Small and Minority/Women-Owned Businesses
State agencies contract for hundreds of millions of dollars of goods and services each year.
“State laws ought to be kinder to our own small businesses, including minority- and women-owned businesses, and require that every state agency make a certain percentage of contracts available for competitive bid,” said Delegate Nancy Guthrie, who serves on the House Finance Committee. “It’s time that we stop losing jobs to other states because West Virginia agencies are using numerous exemptions to side-step the many competent and reliable small businesses right in our own back yard.”
Eliminating such exemptions would bring West Virginia in compliance with long-standing federal contract requirements.
Tourism Development Act
The Tourism Development Act expired at the end of December 2013.
“We need to extend and expand the Tourism Development Act to encourage investment in West Virginia Companies that provide tourism activities and services, opportunities I know are very important not just to my region, but to the state as a whole,” Delegate Dana Lynch of Webster County said. “The Tourism Development Act is a unique opportunity to encourage significant investment within the state of West Virginia and which will maximize one of West Virginia's greatest assets: its natural beauty.”
Affordable Internet Access
All West Virginians deserve affordable internet access, and the Legislature will continue to work with the Governor to see that expansion continues as quickly and efficiently as possible.
“In Southern West Virginia, we truly appreciate how technology has helped bring the world to our rural area,” said Delegate Clif Moore of McDowell County. “An entire generation of students are benefitting as a result, as well as adults seeking retraining or to build on their education.”
Delegate Larry Williams, a farmer from Preston County who is serving on the Small Business, Entrepreneurship & Economic Development Work Group, said new focus will be placed on agricultural businesses.
“We must aggressively work with the West Virginia Department of Agriculture to expand the agricultural business in the State of West Virginia,” he said. “The agriculture industry in West Virginia is a grossly underutilized, underappreciated, and under developed industry that has the potential to create economic prosperity in many areas of our state that have been untapped for some time.”
Speaker Miley noted that the proposals mentioned during the past three days are not an exhaustive list.
“We will always be open to suggestions that meet that basic criteria – legislation that benefits Families, expands Educational opportunities; bolsters our state’s Energy industry; and spurs economic Development – as well as how we can make government more transparent and accountable and operate with integrity to the benefit of the citizens of West Virginia,” he said.