CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- States must put their "own house in order" to spark job growth and set the stage for economic development, West Virginia Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette said Monday.
West Virginia's political leaders have balanced the state's budget, reduced pension debts, cut taxes and privatized the workers' compensation system -- key factors designed to lure businesses to the state, Burdette said.
"Economic development starts with getting your own house in order," said Burdette, speaking at the Southern Legislative Conference in Charleston. "We've tried to broaden people's vision about us around the country."
Twenty years ago, West Virginia lawmakers "set a course of action" to shore up the state's finances, he said.
The state has had a balanced budget each of the past seven years, and West Virginia hasn't raised general taxes in 17 years, the commerce secretary said.
The state's food tax and business franchise tax will be eliminated within two years.
West Virginia has the third-most-stable budget in the nation, according to a recent ranking cited by Burdette on Monday.
"It wasn't just about cutting taxes," he said. "It was about balancing the budget so you can cut taxes strategically."
Workers' compensation reforms also have improved West Virginia's business climate, Burdette said. The state's workers' compensation rates have fallen 52 percent in recent years.
"It's gone from some of the highest rates in the country to some of the lowest in the country," Burdette said.
The changes, he said, have helped persuade companies such as Macy's, which recently opened a distribution center in Martinsburg, and Gestamp International, a Spanish automotive company that plans to create 700 jobs in South Charleston, to locate in West Virginia.
West Virginia's credit rating -- now AAA -- has improved, and state exports have increased significantly -- up 39 percent last year over the previous year, Burdette said.
Coal exports -- $5.3 billion last year compared to $2.8 billion in 2010 -- accounted for much of the growth. But plastics and other product exports also set records.