As West Virginia looks to grow economically, a key partner will continue to be the Economic Development Administration, also known as the EDA.
This federal agency makes targeted investments in local communities and partners with leaders on the ground.
But, this was not always the case.
Before I was elected to the United States Senate, the EDA did not play an active role in West Virginia, which is odd when you consider that West Virginia has no shortage of economic development and infrastructure needs.
After only two months into the job as U.S. senator, I called a meeting with the then-head of the EDA to discuss investments in West Virginia, and encourage them to take a hard look at increasing its presence in our state.
To highlight the paltry amount West Virginia received before this meeting and before I came to the Senate, in 2013 and 2014, the state received a total of $200,000 from the EDA outside of normal planning grants. This funding was also only used for technical assistance.
But, the good news is, at my insistence and through collaboration with my staff, we have turned a corner.
Since my meeting in 2015, the EDA has begun prioritizing West Virginia investments and has hired a representative solely focused on West Virginia. Since this change, the state has seen the development of a pipeline of projects that have and will continue to lead to job retention and creation across West Virginia.
Since 2015, the EDA has invested nearly $40 million in West Virginia.
This is over a 400 percent increase in funding since our offices collaborated.
Four hundred percent. That’s huge.
These investments will impact 48 counties, and they will create over 4,000 jobs, while retaining nearly 1,800 jobs.
The investments have funded infrastructure improvements, workforce training programs, manufacturing programs, manufacturing expansions, and efforts that support entrepreneurs.
By bringing everyone to the table and working with state and local economic development officials, I was able to foster a renewed focus on West Virginia’s needs to the benefit of local projects.
In addition to the EDA bringing on a state representative to interface directly with communities, we are ensuring dollars go toward projects that will contribute to the future of West Virginia.
It’s no secret that West Virginia has taken a bit of a hit over the years.
A changing economy and misguided regulators coming out of Washington have clearly had an impact on many of the communities within our state, as well as many of the industries West Virginia has relied on for decades.
It’s also no secret that West Virginians are tough and resilient, and we know how to come together to do whatever it takes to move the state forward.
Thanks to this West Virginia spirit, and an administration that wants to see states and communities succeed, things are turning around and we are seeing a great deal of new opportunities for economic development.
Today, I’m excited to welcome U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Dr. John Fleming to West Virginia where we will be delivering even more good news in Putnam County that will positively impact EDA investment projects all across the state.
Furthermore, more than half of the projects being announced today are within Opportunity Zones — a program made possible through the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which I proudly voted for and President Donald Trump signed into law. Opportunity Zones aim to spur growth in economically distressed areas by incentivizing private investment in communities that need it the most.
EDA is also a strong proponent of this program and has prioritized applications from Opportunity Zones across the country, which is great news for West Virginia. It’s also a win-win for the communities, projects receiving these funds, and investors.
The investments that we are announcing today, as well as the ones already announced, are good news for the entire state, and they will lead to significant private investment that benefits the region’s economy over the long term.
They are also critical for West Virginia as the state seeks to reorient economies toward industries of the future like technology and advanced manufacturing. These are the sort of projects the federal government should be prioritizing.
It’s this entrepreneurial spirit and ingenuity we need to be supporting to boost local economies and create more opportunities for success right here in West Virginia.
West Virginians are some of the hardest working people in the nation, and they can compete with anyone as long as they have the right tools to succeed.
When the federal government serves as a willing partner for all parts of this country — regardless if they are urban or rural — we can promote economic growth and opportunity for all Americans.
That’s exactly what this partnership is all about.
I know that by working together with the EDA through investment opportunities like these, we can chart a better path forward for West Virginia.
And that’s exactly what I will continue to do: work with partners like the EDA to advocate for programs and deliver results that contribute to a brighter economic future for West Virginia.