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State officials wooing business at Greenbrier Classic

By Caitlin Cook, Staff writer

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS — State Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette moved his office this week to what he sees as one of West Virginia’s best marketing venues — The Greenbrier Classic.

“I tell people all the time, we can’t sit in our office and wait for people to find us,” Burdette said. “We can’t expect people to know the story of West Virginia if we are not telling it.”

The week the PGA tour invades White Sulphur Springs is a time for the Commerce Department to not only bring people into the Mountain State but also to build potential business relationships, Burdette said.

“I think the West Virginia story is becoming more and more competitive all the time,” Burdette said. “We know it is in so many different categories, and we know we are competing for projects — we just weren’t on the queue sheet for many, many years.”

Burdette is focused on selling opportunities and sites in West Virginia.

“When you look at big, industrial manufacturing projects where they want 300 to 400 acres at a minimum, we struggle sometimes with that,” Burdette said.

He wouldn’t name names but said the department is hosting a number of people representing potential projects in the state.

“It’s an incredibly relaxed environment,” Burdette said. “Business is relationships. People want to do business with people that they believe will pay attention to them, that they can trust, and this gives us a week to try and build those relationships.”

The department hosted Odebrecht executives several times at the golf tournament in the past four years, Burdette said. Odebrecht is contemplating a petrochemical “cracker” complex in Wood County.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said in a statement that he would meet several business executives who either have operations or have invested in West Virginia, as well as people considering locating a business here.

“This week provides us with a tremendous opportunity to meet with business leaders from across the country and around the globe who have invested in West Virginia, and to share with those considering an investment in the Mountain State the steps we’re taking to make West Virginia the right place to do business,” Tomblin said in the statement. “The week’s activities give us a chance to really showcase all of the wonderful things our state has to offer to people who make major investment decisions.”

But Burdette added that he would never suggest that having someone at The Greenbrier Classic is the reason why the Odebrecht project found footing in West Virginia.

It’s also about the effort that’s been made to change West Virginia’s business climate, Burdette said. He referenced lowering the state corporate tax from 9.75 percent to 6.5 percent, phasing out the business franchise tax at the end of this year and privatizing workers compensation that resulted in decreasing rates.

“That’s the story we tell,” Burdette said. “The Greenbrier Classic gives us an opportunity to tell it.”

Other states are taking notice of the department’s use of the tournament, Burdette said.

“They are realizing they have a card to play,” Burdette said of other states utilizing golf tournaments or professional sporting events for marketing and hosting potential business partners. “We are just trying to use it.”

Burdette said the Department of Commerce is optimistic about a couple of projects and that fall could be a good time for West Virginia.

“I think we are going to have some announcements,” he said. “We are winning more than we are losing now.”

Almost all of those announcements are related to manufacturing, Burdette said.

Burdette did not stop by the sports facility and medical center being constructed for the New Orleans Saints for off-season training. He added that the $25 million in tax credits proposed by the Legislature is not final.

“Even though The Greenbrier has the opportunity to apply for a tax credit, they have not applied yet and they have not qualified yet,” Burdette said. “It’s not an automatic — both the Saints complex and the medical clinic have to reach certain thresholds to qualify.”

Reach Caitlin Cook at caitlin.cook@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5119.


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