CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- An Obama administration official met with West Virginia's congressional delegation and a dozen entrepreneurs Thursday, promising that the federal government would do more to help small companies create jobs.
John Fernandez, U.S. assistant secretary of commerce for economic development, fielded questions about the government's patent-approval process, rising electricity costs, accessing capital, attracting investors and luring graduate-school researchers to the state.
"The public side isn't the enemy. The private sector isn't the dark side. We're all in this together," Fernandez said during Thursday's meeting at the West Virginia Education Research & Technology Park in South Charleston.
Steve Turner, CEO of Protea Biosciences in Morgantown, said his biotech firm has 45 employees. About 80 percent of them graduated from West Virginia University, he said.
Turner described his employees as "the best and brightest work force I have ever seen," but he predicted that it will be difficult to find similar talented workers in the future.
"The foundation of innovation is the graduate students," Turner told Fernandez. "You need to invest in attracting graduate students."
Jeff Bradley, CEO of Globe Specialty Metals, said his company struggles to compete globally because of skyrocketing electricity rates in West Virginia. Annual power bills at the silicon metal manufacturer's Fayette County plant in Alloy have increased from $30 million to $40 million in just two years.
"We're dealing with these escalating cost increases," Bradley said, adding that the company recently decided to build a factory in Iceland because of lower energy costs.
Parvez Wadia, chief technical officer at the Mid-Atlantic Technology Research & Innovation Center in South Charleston, criticized the federal government's slow patent-approval system.