Wayne Towner
PARKERSBURG - In recent years, West Virginia has made progress in becoming a more business-friendly state but officials need to remain on course and continue making policy changes that improve the state's business climate, a statewide business group recommends.
The West Virginia Business and Industry Council (BIC) is holding regional meetings this week in Parkersburg and around the state to talk with business owners and state legislators about what has been done in the past and what still needs to be done.
Jan Vineyard, chairman of BIC, met Monday evening with about 25 local business owners and legislators, including state Sens. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, and Karen Facemyer, R-Jackson, and Delegates John Ellem, Tom Azinger and Bill Anderson, all R-Wood, at the Blennerhassett Hotel.
The BIC represents more than 50 business organizations in West Virginia, including major trade associations and major employers,Vineyard said. Looking at the current situation and issues facing the West Virginia Legislature in 2010, she said this is one of the rare years where the main topics of concern are not state issues, but federal ones.
Vineyard said the BIC is recommending businesses and officials closely follow the issues of cap and trade and health care reform being discussed at the federal level. Both could have a significant impact on West Virginia, especially cap and trade and the effects on the state as an energy producer.
"Due to the importance of West Virginia's energy industry - which helped our state with a budget surplus in the last fiscal year when 46 other states saw deficits - we need all elected leaders, from local and municipal officials to state representatives to our congressional leaders to voice their opinions and stand up for West Virginia coal," she said.
Vineyard said the BIC believes West Virginia has been moving in the right direction in recent years to help businesses and improve the state's business climate. Some of those positive changes have involved the privatization of workers compensation, the state's medical malpractice reforms, unemployment funding and reductions in business taxes.
"The business franchise will be reduced completely and eliminated in 2015. We've reduced the corporate net and we're doing that in a manner that's shown some improvements and reserve," she said of the business tax reforms.
One of the directions the BIC wants to work toward is an outgrowth of the medical malpractice reforms. Changes like placing a cap on civil damages under malpractice have helped West Virginia by encouraging doctors to remain in the state and attracting new doctors, she said.
Vineyard said the BIC would like to see some of those same reforms put in place for the general business community. She believes steps in that direction would attract more business to West Virginia in the future.