2018 marked another year of accomplishment under Republican leadership. Most importantly, these accomplishments had a tremendous impact on our state. Our small businesses are feeling more optimistic, our economy has experienced positive growth, families have a renewed sense of hope, and West Virginia workers finally feel like good jobs are available.
Whether it was delivering significant regulatory reforms, creating new economic opportunities, enacting the most comprehensive legislation to combat the opioid epidemic, providing for our veterans, or improving our state’s infrastructure, the Republican-led Congress is delivering solutions to improve the lives of West Virginians.
But while all of these efforts will mean so much for so many in our state, our work is far from done. That’s why I’ve always promised to build on the momentum we continue to create. And, as we move into 2019, that’s exactly what I plan to do: build on these accomplishments and continue to deliver more results that improve the lives of West Virginians like you.
Take economic development, for example.
Last year, our state, as well as our entire country, experienced tremendous economic growth. Much of that success was a result of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which was signed into law at the very end of 2017. An important part of this legislation is a provision that I co-sponsored to create something known as “Opportunity Zones.” The goal with this measure was to help spur growth in economically distressed areas, and it’s something that West Virginia and others are already taking advantage of.
Last summer, I hosted Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina in Huntington to tour several Opportunity Zones in the area and meet with local leaders from both the public and private sectors to hear more about the economic challenges they face, as well as how they believe Opportunity Zones can make a difference.
Communities like Huntington and many others across West Virginia stand to gain so much from the kind of investments Opportunity Zones can attract, and that was evident during our discussions with local leaders. From increasing reliable broadband access and revitalizing areas that have seen tough times economically to helping diversify the economy and attracting new business, these designations can truly create new opportunities for our communities, and I believe that they can be game-changers for our state and our economic potential.
I’m so glad President Trump has prioritized economic development and encouraged innovative solutions like Opportunity Zones, and I’m looking forward to continuing my work with the administration, as well as state and local leaders, to grow the economy and create more jobs and opportunity throughout our state.
Other important components that will help our state build on the economic success we’ve created are our efforts to encourage entrepreneurship and diversify our economy.
One way we can do that is by investing in our universities and creating and expanding programs to include more applicable curriculums focused on innovation and entrepreneurship. By doing so, we can create an environment that makes our state attractive for startups and new businesses to develop and grow here.
Recent contributions from John Chambers to WVU’s Business School and Brad and Alys Smith to Marshall’s College of Business are perfect examples of the way individuals and industry can work with our institutions of higher education and others to accomplish these important goals. At the same time, critical federal research dollars are helping startups turn their ideas and visions into realities.
These are all important developments, and I’m doing what I can in the Senate to contribute to and encourage this pro-entrepreneurial, pro-growth environment. By continuing on this path, I believe we can cultivate, attract, and retain innovative talent in West Virginia that will set our state up for success in the years to come.
We can also complement these efforts and help fuel our economy through other efforts — like expanding access to broadband and improving connectivity in our state.
Since my first day in the Senate, improving broadband access has been one of my top priorities, and it will continue to be a top priority as we move forward into 2019. And, since launching my Capito Connect plan in 2015, we’ve been able to make significant progress in better connecting our communities and closing the digital divide.
Whether you’re a small business owner looking to grow your operations, a teacher wanting to help your students learn in new and innovative ways, or someone who could benefit from telehealth services, broadband is a critical resource. It keeps us connected, helps improve our lives and communities, and can lead to so many new opportunities.
The economic benefits of broadband infrastructure, in particular, are clear:
For every $5 billion invested in broadband infrastructure, 250,000 jobs are created. With every percentage point increase in new broadband distribution, employment expands by 300,000 jobs.
It’s statistics like these that demonstrate why broadband infrastructure investments are essential to helping West Virginians succeed in the 21st-century economy. By combining both wired and wireless technology infrastructure, as well as other innovative ideas, we can continue making progress when it comes to expanding connectivity throughout the Mountain State, and that is something I plan to remain focused on this year.
The combination of a skilled workforce, new economic opportunities, and a connected state is a powerful one, and it has the ability to make a serious impact on our future.
Now that the 116th Congress is underway, I’m excited to continue the good work we are doing to build on our successes and deliver meaningful results for our state and those who make it a wonderful place to call home. I’ve said before that West Virginia’s best and brightest days are ahead, and I can’t wait for what 2019 brings.