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Economic outlook should be wake-up call to lawmakers

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The 20th Annual West Virginia Economic Outlook took place this week in Charleston. Presented by the West Virginia University College of Business and Economics, the forum is a fascinating glimpse into how the state's economy might function in the coming years. There was mix of good news and, of course, not-so-great news about how things could go, but it was clear the presentations were mercifully (and thankfully) devoid of politics and talking points. Those in attendance got hard data presented in an interesting, lucid way.

According to those offering prognostications, West Virginia is expected to post steady job growth over the next few years. We weathered the Great Recession fairly well and, in some cases, we're actually rebounding better than the national economy. 

We also heard a few distressing facts. A very low proportion of West Virginians either has a job or is looking for a job. Population growth in the state has been very slow and it looks like we're facing a decline in coming years.

Though it was not part of an official presentation, Jose "Zito" Sartarelli, dean of the business school, made a good point about how to move our state forward. When asked about how to empower our economy, Sartarelli noted that our elected leaders cannot just come to Charleston during the legislative session and "pass a law just to pass a law." 

Hopefully, someone at that gathering will champion his message at the Statehouse.
Despite our shortcomings, West Virginia has enormous potential. Even when the American economy was at its worst, we fought through and made our way. As the rest of the country begins what appears to be a period of extended, if possibly robust, growth, West Virginia will, once again, be left behind.

Our lawmakers have the power to give us a chance to compete with the rest of the nation. Rather than watch as we lag further and further behind, they could show some courage and step up. Instead of, as Sartarelli so succinctly stated, passing a law just to pass a law, our elected leaders need to look at our laws and see what's holding us back. 

We won't deny that some headway has been made, but there is more work to do. We need a tax code that reflects today's business dynamic, courts that put fairness above all else and schools that truly prepare our kids for global competition. We need leaders willing to make the dream of West Virginia a reality.