February 28, 2017 Read More →

A Post-Coal Economy in West Virginia: ‘Hard, but Not Impossible’

From the (Beckley, W.V.) Register-Herald:

The region’s tradition of coal mining is dying, after the country embraced cheaper and cleaner natural gas, which has surpassed coal as the nation’s leading source of net electricity generation.

Last year, the region’s coal production fell by about 60 percent from its height in 2008 at 158 million short tons. In 2016, the state mined less than 68 million tons. This year, production is expected to be a bit higher at 70 million tons. Eventually, a temperate rebound is forecast, reaching 75 million tons by 2020. But, the production is expected to drop significantly by 2036 to less than 57 million tons, predicts WVU’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research.

So, the question remains, with limited resources, how does the region create a post-coal economy in the coalfields?

From grocery store aisles in Daniels to restaurants in Summersville to classrooms in Mullens, people are discussing West Virginia’s current crossroads. While some are just talking, others are refusing to sit back and wait for something to happen. What scores of people said over the last year of listening is West Virginia cannot afford another Hillbilly Highway, U.S. 23, which thousands of West Virginia traveled to find gainful employment for decades.

Viable ideas aren’t only coming from Ph.D.s in Morgantown or officials in Charleston, but from people dining at Fran’s Family Restaurant or comparison shopping at a local IGA. The common-man sees simple solutions to complex problems.

Whatever the state’s post-coal future is, political and economic leaders are saying — at least on the record — that the region has qualified workers with transferable skills.

But this region is suffering from an opioid epidemic and business owners are always saying, “I cannot find qualified people.” They tell of failed drug tests, workers showing up for a few days and those that do show up normally don’t return after a paycheck or two.

The region is seeing a number of displaced coal miners setting up their own shops, be it a garage or a home inspection business. Is it a necessity or the dream of owning their own business? Either way, that is a bright sign in an economy that could use a few more.

Across the state, municipalities are finding new ways to revitalize their economies. During a recent visit to Weirton, it was witnessed first hand how working together can bring a suffering town back. By combining federal, state and private funds, Weirton and the surrounding area has witnessed a major drop in unemployment, as well as an increase in industry over the last decade.

As southern West Virginia moves ahead in other economic areas, it shows life after coal is going to be hard, but not impossible.

Moving on: creating a post coal economy

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