West Virginia has among the lowest college attendance and completion rates in the country.
Hammond said in order for the state to become more competitive and see faster growth, it has to produce more college graduates.
Hill referred to the "Educating West Virginia is Everyone's Business" report, from a task force organized by the HEPC and West Virginia Council for Community and Technical College Education that lays out a five-step roadmap to dramatically increase West Virginia's college completion rate.
Hill said the state will need an additional 20,000 college graduates just to meet the workforce's current needs in the next five years.
"Which is a need above and beyond what we have right now," Hill said. "If we had a major industry developed here, that might start to draw an additional need for college graduates. We already know we need to produce more college graduates to meet the need of the growing industry."
Some graduates are working in positions that didn't exist 10 years ago, Hill said.
The development along the Interstate 79 corridor in north-central West Virginia is bringing new businesses, such as Northrop Grumman, to the state and employing more West Virginia graduates, he said.
Hammond said the state has been "working hard to improve the business climate," but there is still a lot of work to do in terms of keeping the tax and regulatory environment as competitive as possible.
Forbes ranked West Virginia 45th in its annual "Best States for Business" report.
It ranked the state as 48th in "growth prospects" and 47th in "regulatory environment." While the state's corporate net income tax declined from 9 percent in 2007 to 7.75 percent in 2012, Forbes said West Virginia's population growth "is anemic at just 0.2 percent since 2006."
The study said the state has a poor business climate, few big companies, and a poorly educated workforce.
Having more college graduates results in a stimulated economy, which will improve the state's business climate as a whole, Bowen said.
"College graduates generate economic activity, start businesses and tend to be entrepreneurial," Bowen said. "Having a highly educated workforce is one of the most important markers of economic growth, and West Virginia has a fairly low number of people who have pursued higher education."
Out of every 100 West Virginia students enrolled in the ninth grade, only 17 will earn a two- or four-year college degree within 10 years.
Of the students who attend college in the state, 60 percent do not complete their degrees.
Ron Knoblock, Steve Knoblock's father, said college graduates represent the future economic development of the state.
He said he didn't become aware of how difficult it is to find a job in West Virginia until his son started looking, and hardly hearing back from companies, in his home state.
Ron Knoblock said the ordeal has been frustrating, not only for his son, but for other graduates who can't find jobs. Most of them have left the state, but Steve Knoblock doesn't want to move because "if he were to leave he would never come back," Ron Knoblock said.
"At what point does someone make the decision 'it's not going to happen here' and pull up the roots and go elsewhere?" Ron said. "There are certain types of jobs that you aren't going to find here, but for a lot of other occupations, where there should be business development, those types of jobs should be here."
Steve Knoblock said he will continue to search for an accounting job in West Virginia, "the only home I've ever known."
He said he hopes businesses are willing to take a chance on graduates who may not have enough experience in their field, but are well-educated.
"People like myself, my friends and people I've never even met have gotten these degrees and businesses are not willing to take the risk to invest in these graduates to really give them the opportunity to show them what they can do, so of course they're leaving because they don't have any incentive not to," Steve Knoblock said. "But I like the environment and the people here and that's why I want to work here."
Reach Megan Workman at megan.work...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.