W.Va. Commerce Secretary sees need for regionalization

By Crystal Good - For the WVPA

CHARLESTON — Citing a need for more regionalization of West Virginia’s economic development efforts, Commerce Secretary Ed Gaunch said the 44 agencies operating across West Virginia can “get in each other’s way.”

During an update to the House of Delegates Government Organization Committee on Jan. 16, Gaunch said regionalization is the best way to foster greater collaboration in terms of economic development in West Virginia.

“We can be more beneficial and productive if we can work regionally,” Gaunch said.

At Commerce, Gaunch said he seeks to foster greater collaboration among the 9 agencies within the department and with other state agencies.

Gaunch was joined by Mike Graney, executive director of the West Virginia Development Office.

The secretary thanked Graney for his vision and gave credit to the 2,000 people who staff the agencies. Gaunch said the staff is being more proactive in business recruitment by targeting industries and working to attract them rather than waiting for industry to call them.

Secretary Gaunch outlined industry growth and opportunity in the fields of petrochemicals, energy, natural resources, life sciences and medical, tourism and outdoor recreation, entrepreneurism, tech and knowledge-based industry, national security and military, agriculture. He also citing a “huge opportunity in timber hardwood.”

In a related issue, Gaunch said tech and knowledge-based companies, as well as Amazon, inquire about West Virginia’s renewable energy measurements and mentioned Power Purchase Agreements.

Gaunch also noted foreign investments in the state, noted that West Virginia has 21 Japanese companies operating in the state.

Gaunch said he is looking into how the state’s Commerce’s agencies can develop regionalization and said he will come back to the committee with recommendations.

Gaunch shared that he regularly conducts business listening and gratitude tours across the State. He said he is hearing from businesses that the business inventory tax is a hindrance, there is an urgency for broadband and numerous compliments to West Virginia’s adequate workforce.

Gaunch said he was proud to be speaking to the Committee on Tourism Day at the Legislature, describing Tourism as “A bright spot.”

He said the strategies and goals of Commerce are collaborative giving the example of how Tourism Director Chelsea Ruby and Director of the Division of Natural Resources Stephen McDaniel work together.

Delegate Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell, asked if the Department has ever conducted a study on the possible impact of recreational cannabis to tourism revenue. Gaunch stated that no study has been conducted but the Agency has the capacity to conduct research.

Gaunch also noted Commerce collaborates with education officials in an effort to “start teaching to the job.”

Across the rotunda, the Senate Economic Development Committee had a brief meeting this week to discuss Senate Bill 265, a bill authorizing the West Virginia Department of Environment Protect to develop the Reclamation of Abandoned and Dilapidated Properties Program.

Jason Wandling, general counsel and director of the Office of Legal Services for DEP, said the agency fully supports the bill. The committee reported the bill to the full Senate.

By Crystal Good

For the WVPA

This article written for, and shared by, the West Virginia Press Association with its member newspapers.

This article written for, and shared by, the West Virginia Press Association with its member newspapers.