2019 marked a year of significant economic growth for West Virginia and we have the numbers to show for this improvement. We are attracting new businesses, creating an environment for existing ones to expand, and, as a result, West Virginia’s unemployment rate is decreasing overall.
But, the good news doesn’t end here.
Proctor & Gamble’s facility in Tabler Station is now up to 1,100 employees, including two co-located suppliers.
Toyota announced earlier this year that it would begin manufacturing hybrid transaxles and its new employment target will approach 1,800.
Hino Motors Manufacturing relocated and expanded its operations in Mineral Wells, increasing employment to 800.
Marathon Oil cut the ribbon on another plant at its Sherwood facility, making it the largest gas processing plant in North America.
And, Pietro Fiorentini opened a manufacturing facility in Weirton.
These are only a few highlights, but it demonstrates that West Virginia can be a hub for the manufacturing and energy industries. And it also shows that the economic climate in our state is a promising one.
This improvement can be attributed to many things, such as the reformation of our outdated tax code and rolling back burdensome regulations, as well as other pro-growth measures. All of these factors — and others — have proven to be a winning combination for workers, small businesses and economic growth, and they have encouraged an environment that’s putting West Virginia on a path to a brighter future.
One of my top priorities since coming to the Senate has been — and continues to be — positioning West Virginia for the future by diversifying our economy. One way I am working to do this is by increasing the tech investment in our state.
When I look back on this year, we’ve made significant progress in this area — and it’s reflected in the success of our growing economy.
Both West Virginia University and Marshall University received significant contributions that will catalyze the beginning of a new era of innovation for the Mountain State, a new accelerator was created at WVU to support tech based endeavors and early stage companies, and West Virginia is on the shortlist for the hyperloop.
We’ve seen a record level of tech investment in West Virginia, with companies like Infor coming to Charleston, Intuit bringing hundreds of jobs to Bluefield and Leidos expanding in Morgantown — to name just a few.
And, through my leadership in expanding broadband accessibility in West Virginia — whether it’s through my Capito Connect program or committee positions on Appropriations and Commerce — I’ve been able to help secure more broadband grants each year — especially this year.
These grants expand far beyond improving connectivity in communities throughout the state. They also support entrepreneurship and economic development projects.
Take the Appalachian Regional Commission, for example. I’ve worked closely with the ARC to direct funding to West Virginia. Earlier this year, I hosted ARC Federal Co-Chairman Tim Thomas on visits to several sites in our state that have benefited from ARC funds. One of these visits included the West Virginia Hive, in Beckley, which is an entrepreneurial support network serving several locations in Southern West Virginia, and is able to function thanks to these funds.
Another partnership that has led to significant funding to benefit economic development, as well as tech investment, is with the Economic Development Administration (EDA).
The EDA has provided funding for many economic development projects throughout the state, like the construction of the Innovation and Knowledge Business Center in Upshur County. Projects like this have long-lasting effects, as they help foster this entrepreneurial spirit that we are seeing throughout the state and should continue to promote.
And, most recently, I announced that Wetzel and Tyler counties have been approved for a $2 million grant and a $3.5 million grant/loan combination through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect Program — a program that supports the construction of fiber networks that will provide broadband service to residents, businesses and community facilities.
I helped create and secure funds for this program in the FY18, FY19, and FY20 budgets. I’ve been working hard with communities across the state to help them take advantage of this opportunity, and I’ll continue to do so to deliver similar funding through this important program.
Future economic growth is contingent upon fostering an environment that promotes entrepreneurship, and I am committed to continuing to support this type of environment. Doing so will help innovative startups access critical federal research dollars that will help them make their ideas and visions realities, and attract other businesses — whether they be tech, manufacturing, energy or others — to set up shop in West Virginia.
There is no question that we saw a true shift in our state’s economic development in 2019. With 2020 just around the corner, I look forward to building on this momentum and continuing to be a partner to support our businesses, our entrepreneurs and our small business owners.