Update: this newspaper column was from a week or so ago. It didn’t get posted for various reasons, but I’ve gotten good feedback on it, so decided to post it a bit late.
I don’t know if it’s the weather, or the fact that the legislature is in session (the session just ended), but I’ve been involved in a number of conversations lately about “what’s wrong with West Virginia.” Of course, the opinions are all over the map with different people making passionate cases for opposite things. I’ve heard people complain about everything from taxation, to the business climate to the education system to political favoritism and drug use. Frankly, it’s probably all of the above.
Most of the time I just listen. Friends of mine will be surprised by that. I remember a good friend, when I was in my early 20s, commenting that it was obvious I wasn’t married because I loved to argue. I don’t know if it’s because of marriage, but I don’t like to “debate” nearly as much as I used to. It seems like I learn a lot more now that I am staying quiet and listening. (I guess wisdom does come with age…)
In one argument, a friend talked about returning to Charleston after a trip to a major city. He said he was reminded of everything we don’t have here: restaurants and culture and arts to name a few things. Of course, we have all of those things, but not on a scale that big cities do and sometimes it’s easy to forget what we do have or miss it if you aren’t paying attention. On the other hand, he said he was comfortable here and didn’t want to live in one of those cities.
The population in the United States has nearly doubled in the last 50 years, while the population in West Virginia slipped slightly. If we’d kept pace with the rest of the country, there would be approximately 3.5 million people in West Virginia.
I see a lot that’s right in West Virginia. And a lot bothers me, too. And I definitely don’t pretend to have the answers. I will say I have a lot more respect for the people who are trying to find ways to “fix” problems rather than just complaining about them.
Researching a new project, I just read a book about the salt industry in the Kanawha Valley in the first half of the 19th century, leading up to the Civil War. It was probably the first extractive industry in the state (although it was western Virginia at the time). Salt was a major reason for logging and coal mining in the area, and led to the chemical industry and oil and natural gas exploration. Interestingly, salt makers faced many of the same issues we do today with boom and bust cycles, favoritism, international competition and distribution issues.
Maybe it’s time to turn our solutions on their head. Not that we shouldn’t take advantage of our God-given gifts and natural resources, but those industries have had problems and been prone to cycles since the beginning. The best resource we have here is our people and the natural beauty that surrounds us. We need to support small businesses and entrepreneurs who can deliver things people are interested in and make our home a place people want to come to live.
With that everything else will come..