CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- There are 1.8 million people in West Virginia -- and 1.2 million state natives living elsewhere.
The word most used to describe such a scattering of people is diaspora. It's the word used to describe the dispersion of the Jews after the Babylonian exile.
Some attempts to organize the West Virginia diaspora have been made. Then-Gov. Gaston Caperton sponsored Homecoming '96. Joe Manchin, when he was governor, tried to get some successful expatriates involved in the state. The Charleston Area Alliance has invited state natives to visit as guest speakers.
However, the West Virginia diaspora remains an unorganized, untapped reservoir of goodwill, knowledge and potential help. More could be done.
Consider Ireland (population 6.4 million), which has realized the potential of its diaspora (estimated at up to 100 million).
"We have been actively building our contacts with the Irish diaspora around the world," said Peter Ryan, deputy consul general for economic and public affairs in Ireland's New York City office. "One way in which we have done this is through the Global Irish Forum."
At the 2011 forum, Ireland's prime minister outlined his desire to ensure that by 2016, Ireland will be the best small country in the world in which to do business and will be synonymous with entrepreneurship, vision and innovation. The deputy prime minister called on participants to develop ideas that contribute to economic renewal, job creation and the restoration of Ireland's reputation abroad.
Out of the forum came the Global Irish Network, with 350 members in almost 40 countries. It "serves as an additional resource for the government and state agencies in advancing our economic interests, particularly in delivering jobs in Ireland," the government said. Some initiatives:
* Establishment of "Global Irish Contacts," which directly links the diaspora with Irish companies looking to achieve international growth.
* "The Gathering Ireland 2013," which hopes to attract 325,000 additional visitors to Ireland this year.