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ECONOMIC GROWTH

This is the latest in an occasional series focusing on the issues,

 

records and platforms of the state's candidates for governor. Today's

 

installment focuses on the economy.

 

 

Republican Gov. Cecil Underwood and his Democratic opponent for

 

governor, Rep. Bob Wise, offer similar economic catchphrases:

 

technology, diversification and work-force development. Their means to the

 

end, however, are as different as a Sunday sermon from a Catholic and a

 

Protestant.

 

 

Underwood prides himself on the out-of-state companies that have opened

 

  • ew factories here. Underwood also touts the state's unemployment rate,
  •  

    which has dropped from 6.4 percent in 1999 to 4.9 percent this year.

     

     

    Wise wants less emphasis on recruiting out-of-state companies. He

     

    prefers encouraging existing businesses and individuals who want to start

     

    their own businesses.

     

     

    Wise disputes Underwood's unemployment rates by pointing out that by

     

  • ext year the state's per capita income is expected to drop below
  •  

    Mississippi's. In 1998, Mississippi was the only state with a lower per

     

    capita income than West Virginia's $19,362.

     

     

    Last year, West Virginia's total job growth was less than 1

     

    percent. The increase in female workers entering the work force was more

     

    than 2 percent, which helped fuel the state's low unemployment rate.

     

     

    Two weeks ago, Underwood explained in his Capitol office why two New

     

    York-based companies in Clay and Mannington are exactly the type of

     

    economic growth he wants for the state if re-elected.

     

     

    "New industry locating in rural areas ... I think this is the direction

     

    we need to go," Underwood

  • aid.
  •  

     

    Last month, Filcon opened with 20 employees in a former Rite Aid store

     

    in Clay. Employees manufacture heavy-equipment filters. They make $6 to $8

     

    an hour.

     

     

    In June, Molecular OptoElectronics Corp. hired 40 people in an old

     

    Mannington industrial building. Employees assemble fiber-optic connectors.

     

    They make $8 to $10 an hour.

     

     

    "We're a state of small towns," Underwood

  • aid.
  • "Historically, this has

     

    been a problem that led to isolation. That's different now with interstate

     

    highways now in place ... and the electronic network."

     

     

    "High-tech companies" like MOEC chose West Virginia for its available

     

    and low-cost labor, higher education system and outdoor recreation,

     

    Underwood

  • aid.
  • By next year, MOEC could hire 200 people, he

  • aid.
  • "This

     

    is a direction where we can keep the momentum going," he

  • aid.
  •  

     

    During a telephone interview from his Washington office, Wise talked

     

    more about fostering a "spirit of entrepreneurism" in West Virginia.

     

     

    "There needs to be some change in the effort to encourage retention and

     

    development from within, as well as industrial recruitment from the

     

    outside. I don't think there is enough development from within," Wise

     

  • aid.
  •  

     

    "I can't predict every job that's going to exist." But, Wise said, "my

     

    hope is that we are actually conceiving and creating many of those jobs."

     

     

    Wise emphasized "individuals getting the training, the skills and the

     

    financing they need to make a success for themselves and whatever business

     

    they're starting."

     

     

    Recruit out-of-state or grow in state? It's an old debate that

     

    typically pits politicians against non-profit grass-roots development

     

    groups. That's changing.

     

     

    Lately, more politicians like Wise are choosing the "grow from within"

     

    approach, said Mark D. Waterhouse, former chairman of the American

     

    Economic Development Council and president of Garnet Consulting

     

    Services in Connecticut.

     

     

    Since the North American Free Trade Agreement, factory expansions and

     

    relocations are harder to come by. States are increasingly competitive

     

    with high-priced incentive packages when luring new industries. And the

     

    Internet has spurred high-profile, fast-growth companies that

     

  • tarted with a few people and a computer.
  •  

     

    Ten years ago, Waterhouse worked for Kentucky's Economic

     

    Development Partnership, a business group similar to West Virginia's

     

    Council for Community and Economic Development.

     

     

    Ideally, states emphasize both outside recruitment and inside

     

    expansion, but limited resources force decision-making. Kentucky "went

     

    through the same sort of debate about where to set priorities," Waterhouse

     

  • aid.
  • State officials there chose recruitment.

     

     

    "Put yourself in the place of the local mayor. Where would you rather

     

    have your picture taken? At a groundbreaking for a 100-employee operation

     

    or shaking hands with one of the two owners of a new business?" Waterhouse

     

  • aid.
  •  

     

    Kentucky recently changed its approach and added a "Cabinet for the New

     

    Economy," Waterhouse

  • aid.
  •  

     

    "I think you'll see more and more of that kind of focus because it's a

     

    specialty," he

  • aid.
  • "People that are talking about recruiting automotive

     

    plants need a different knowledge base than people that are talking about

     

    e-commerce."

     

     

    Wise criticized, as small-business advocates have in the past,

     

    Underwood's tax reform plan, the super tax credit and the Capital Company

     

    Act.

     

     

    Underwood defended his tax reform package. It provides "simpler taxes"

     

    and eases "the heaviest burden on manufacturing," he

  • aid.
  •  

     

    Wise disagreed. "It unfairly shifts a lot of the tax burden from the

     

    mining industry ... and shifts it to the kinds of industries we're trying

     

    to develop - service and technology," he

  • aid.
  •  

     

    The super tax credit forgives up to 80 percent of taxes for as long as

     

    13 years for business owners who announce 50 to 1,000 new jobs. Grumbles

     

    about the tax credit are not uncommon for staff at the Business &

     

    Industrial Development Corp., said Bill Goode, president.

     

     

    "We often hear that some of the incentive programs are geared toward

     

  • ew companies. The same programs are available to existing companies but
  •  

    ... for an existing company to add 250 new jobs, that's a lot," Goode

     

  • aid.
  •  

     

    Sixty percent to 80 percent of new job growth comes from

     

    existing companies, Goode

  • aid.
  • During fiscal year 2000, 169 companies

     

    announced new investments in the state; 57 of those were out-of-state

     

    companies, according to the West Virginia Development Office's annual

     

    report.

     

     

    "Because we have so many small companies in West Virginia, to have a

     

    big impact statewide, each one of those little companies has to add a

     

    person, and that will be as big an impact as bringing in that one new

     

    company," he

  • aid.
  •  

     

    In his economic development plan posted on his campaign Web

     

  • ite, Wise said he wants "to make sure incentive programs provide
  •  

    opportunity for existing businesses as well as to attract new businesses."

     

     

    Rick Clonch, a longtime coal company executive, recently started an

     

    e-commerce exchange for the coal industry, ImixInc. com. In January,

     

    Clonch opened an office in Charleston with one administrative assistant.

     

    In the past six months, he's added 12 employees. By next year, he hopes to

     

    hire another 30 people.

     

     

    "I think there's a lack of venture capital that's in West Virginia, and

     

    I think whatever can be done and whatever needs to be done - it'd be nice

     

    to see things addressed in the next Legislature regarding the New

     

    Economy," Clonch

  • aid.
  •  

     

    West Virginia has a venture capital program called the Capital Company

     

    Act. Since 1987, more than $100 million of state money has been given to

     

    investors who start venture funds. It is debatable whether that money has

     

    produced the type of new job growth for which it was intended.

     

     

    Wise said he wants to reform the Capital Company Act. He also wants to

     

  • tart a new venture capital fund, the Mountaineer Opportunity Fund, for
  •  

    high-risk business start-ups.

     

     

    Underwood responded that Atlanta consultant Mac Holladay is conducting

     

    an in-depth analysis of the state's incentive package and venture capital

     

  • eeds. Based on Holladay's report, expected in November, the development
  •  

    office will revise its policies, he

  • aid.
  •  

     

    Development office employees have been receptive, but unable to help

     

    Clonch's start-up company. Clonch's biggest challenge is finding workers

     

  • killed on the Internet. Employees make an average of $40,000 a year.
  •  

    "Maybe they [development officials] don't have the capacity because of the

     

    structures of the laws and things of that nature," Clonch

  • aid.
  •  

     

    "That's my impression. That their hands are tied and limited because of

     

    the resources and the legislation," he

  • aid.
  •  

     

    To contact staff writer Kelly Regan, use e-mail or call 348-5163.

     

     


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