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Candidates for governor share their economic visions for W.Va.

West Virginia’s Republican candidates for governor, most of whom are meeting for a MetroNews debate this week, have been weighing in on their views of the state’s economy.

Generally, indicators show that the state’s economy is all right.

CNBC, the cable television business channel, ranked West Virginia’s economy 46th in the nation. Workforce, business friendliness and economic factors earned F ratings. Infrastructure got a D-minus. But cost of doing business and cost of living both got an A-plus.

West Virginia’s most recent unemployment rate was 4.0 percent, which is up slightly from prior months. The labor force participation rate, which is usually low compared to other states, was 54.7 percent last year. Average annual wages have been growing about $53,000 last year, still lower than the national average.

West Virginia’s gross domestic product has been trending upward in a post-pandemic recovery.

The economy will be one of the topics under discussion this Thursday when several leading candidates for the Republican nomination for West Virginia governor gather to debate. The MetroNews debate starts at 7 p.m. Thursday.

The debate hosted by veteran broadcaster Hoppy Kercheval will run on MetroNews radio stations and affiliates, and it will stream at

Participants include Secretary of State Mac Warner, House Judiciary Chairman Moore Capito and businessman Chris Miller. Each has described a vision for West Virginia’s economy during recent appearances on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”

Mac Warner: ‘We’ve positioned ourselves to be competitive’

Warner, a two-term statewide officeholder from Morgantown, described the state’s economy as both good and bad.

“West Virginia’s got the attention of the nation,” he said. “The Legislature has put West Virginia in position to be competitive in the marketplace with prevailing wage, right to work, tax reform, legal reform. We’ve positioned ourselves to be competitive.”

Warner also cited big economic development announcements like the Nucor Steel plant in Mason County and the Form Energy industrial battery plant in Weirton. Now it’s time to pivot, Warner said.

“Instead of just giving companies money to come here, we need to sink that money into infrastructure. We’re talking roads, water, sewer, that sort of thing, so we invest in the ground in West Virginia, make flat places,” he said.

And, on what Warner termed the bad side, West Virginia needs to improve in areas such as educational attainment and battling drug addiction. “We have a lot of room to improve,” he said.

Chris Miller: ‘We’re in the sweet spot’

West Virginia’s economy is in good shape, Miller said, but it can be better.

“We’re in the sweet spot where we’ve got a lot of good activity going on,” said Miller, citing the state’s growth in gross domestic product, which has actually lagged most other states. “There’s a lot of great action and activity going on, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that West Virginia has got what people are looking for.”

West Virginia has significant sources of power, including coal, natural gas and the potential for nuclear, he said. The water that flows through the state is a major resource too, he said.

“We’ve got the hills, the trees, the rivers, the streams. We have a high quality of life and a low cost of living. We are surrounded by some of the best people on planet earth, and there is a family-based kind of conservative way that we look at stuff that people are dying to be a part of again.”

Miller, who runs his family’s network of auto dealerships in southern West Virginia, said that experience can be applied to state government. One of his top goals is to eliminate the state income tax. And he said the state needs to add 200,000 to 300,000 residents over the next decade or so.

“We’ve done measure to start reducing the income tax, but if we boil down West Virginia’s problems to what they really are our greatest export has not been our coal, it has not been our natural gas and it’s not been our timber — it’s been our educated kids,” he said.

“It’s been our kids from middle class and educated families that wind up leaving the state. And it’s creating this population drain that is going to eventually make, actuarially-speaking, our state upside down when it comes to our bond ratings, and it’s going to raise the cost of government, and we’re not going to have a productive tax base below it to justify that big bloated existence – and that’s going to be a bad day for West Virginia.”

Moore Capito: ‘TheWest Virginia economy is growing’

Capito, a lawyer from Charleston, said the state’s economy is trending upward.

“When you look at where we are and where’ we’ve come from the trend line is very positive,” said Capito, who is the son of U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito.

He credited the work of state officials, including the Legislature, to shape a business-friendly environment. Capito specifically cited the flat state budget estimates that have restrained spending.

“And we’ve gone out and we’ve sold the state of West Virginia to the rest of the country and it’s yielding great results on the whole,” Capito said. “So on the whole I’d say West Virginia is growing because of the get-it-done principles that we’ve put in place.”

Capito acknowledged that the state’s economy has been uneven by region, but he said that can improve with work and good planning.

“At the end of the day we’re all West Virginians, and we want the best for West Virginia,” he said. “As we grow the entire pie and we get it done for the entire state, the rest of the state can grow.”

Other candidates

Rashida Yost of Martinsburg is also running for the Republican nomination for governor.

Also pre-registered as Republican candidates for governor are Terri Bradshaw of Gandeeville, Edwin Vanover of Bluefield and Roy Lee Springfield Sr. of Harman, although their campaign reports don’t show any active fundraising.

Three-term Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, a Republican, is running but not participating in the MetroNews debate.

Morrisey did appear on “Talkline” to talk about West Virginia’s economy.

“I would say our economy is slowly improving, but we have enormous amounts of work to do to reach our potential,” Morrisey said. “I’m not satisfied if we’re 48th, 49th or 50th in various economic categories. We’re not going to do a victory lap unless we get our numbers way, way up.”

Morrisey advocated for a comparison of West Virginia to the policies and performances of its surrounding states. Like Miller, he advocated eventually wiping out the state’s income tax.

“That alone would make us a lot more competitive with other states that we touch,” he said. “You want to be a regional powerhouse. It means you have to be superior to the other states you’re competing against.”