West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin started his 2014 State of the State address by talking about his childhood in the small town of Chapmanville in Logan County and the family garden.
“In our home, we didn’t always have what we wanted, but we always had what we needed, especially at the table because of our garden. Three years ago when Joanne and I moved into the Governor’s Mansion, I was thrilled to learn it included a small garden. I knew I would be able to cultivate something good, lasting and meaningful for the visitors to the mansion.”
Tomblin continued to talk about gardening throughout his address, and leading with a statement about West Virginia’s strength, then continuing with a list of successes, opportunities and commitments.
“My fellow West Virginians, make no mistake, the State of our State is strong. We pay our bills on time and we’ve invested in our future by continuing to work together as we face future challenges. We will not impose financial burdens on future generations. In fact, our reserve fund is one of the healthiest in the nation. We did not get here by accident—we got here with planning, patience and foresight. Our Rainy Day fund has a savings of over $920 million and it has helped protect and improve the state’s credit rating for over 20 years. We have ensured timely and sound pension contributions. Liabilities in the Workers’ Compensation program were about $8 billion just nine years ago. By the end of this year, the State’s workers’ compensation unfunded liability is expected to be less than $500 million dollars. We have not had a general tax increase since 1996. Unlike other states that had to drain their reserve funds during the recent recession, West Virginia did not have to borrow one dime.”
It was at this point Tomblin spoke of creating positive opportunities for the state’s senior citizens, veterans, students, families, businesses and communities. Highlights include:
· The 13-day investment mission to Europe with stops in Spain, France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland and efforts to bring good paying jobs to West Virginia. “During that trip my team met with a number of prospects—several have committed to investing in West Virginia,” said Tomblin.
· West Virginia’s strength and growth as an international competitor. Production from manufacturing sectors — plastics, machinery, chemicals, aerospace, medical products and automotive — grew substantially. Exports have increased from $9 billion in 2011 to over $11 billion last year and outpaced the national growth rate.
· The legislature also passed a bill to encourage Marcellus-to-Manufacturing investments to foster the development of a revitalized high tech chemical industry, with enduring high-paying jobs. Tomblin remarked on the Wood County cracker plant. “I’m pleased to announce our shared vision is paying off. We have created unprecedented opportunity for generations of West Virginians. Project ASCENT, the cracker, is a defining moment for economic development in the Mountain State. Odebrecht believes Wood County is the best location for the potential development of an ethane cracker and three polyethylene plants. Wood County provides a unique opportunity to construct a cracker that maximizes our abundant Marcellus and Utica Shale reserves. The construction phase of this project alone is expected to create approximately 10,000 jobs. This cracker is a game changer.”
· Other recent international achievements include the $20 million expansion of the Sogefi Group that will soon add 250 jobs to the product line at its Prichard, West Virginia plant.
· Serving new markets for coal, Carbonyx, a Texas-based company, will invest tens of millions of dollars in a new Jackson County plant. This new development will create 60 jobs in its first phase. The plant will make a carbon alloy replacement for coke, a key ingredient for steelmaking. Carbonyx will use West Virginia coal in its manufacturing process.
· Gestamp, an automotive stamping plant in South Charleston, which has expanded since opening in 2012 has announced its investment of $100 million and a minimum of 400 jobs in the next five years.
· After 25 years since the Development Office established roots in Japan, 20 Japanese companies continue to invest in West Virginia — including internationally recognized Toyota, Hino Motors, and NGK Spark Plugs.
Tomblin addressed the coal industry in the mountain state.
“To keep our coal industry alive and well—and I promise you we will—we must continue to seek out new markets and uses for it, while doing what we can to help the industry reduce costs, and be more productive, efficient, safe and environmentally friendly. While I will never back down from the EPA because of its misguided policies on coal, we should remind ourselves a challenge doesn’t always lead to confrontation. Last summer I sat across the table from EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and shared our story. We have been hit hard. But with planning and perseverance I believe the obstacles can be overcome.”
Tomblin recognized the importance of small businesses and the recent death of Gilbert native, James H. “Buck” Harless.
“Last week we lost one of West Virginia’s most outstanding benefactors. Buck Harless gave to his community and to our state a blueprint for a life well lived. Buck knew it was the small community based businesses, and the young entrepreneurs—like himself—that could truly make the largest gains for our state and her people.”
Tomblin then remarked about the focus on education.
“All plants in the garden must have healthy stems to survive and produce vibrant and healthy harvests. The stem is the main delivery system for any plant. Without the stem the plant dies and with it so does the hope for any chance of prosperity. And, so it is with STEM—an acronym: S-T-E-M—a word you are going to hear a lot about in the weeks and months ahead. STEM stands for: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Emphasis on STEM in education will prepare our children for tomorrow’s jobs. It will develop skilled workers and professionals for qualified employment. I am reconstituting the STEM Commission. The Commission will be charged with promoting student interest in these subjects, to make the most of federal STEM initiatives and to expand math and science education beyond the classroom. Our children will struggle to succeed without that solid stem—the foundation of a good education.”
Tomblin introduced the 2014 Toyota Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield Teacher of the Year. Erin Sponaugle from Martinsburg and recognized Fred Earley, the President of Highmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield of W.Va., and Millie Marshall, the President of the Toyota Motor Manufacturing of W.Va., for their continued support of West Virginia teachers.
Tomblin committed to funding a two percent pay raise for all teachers and school service personnel who invest in our children every day and is asking for a pay increase for state employees.
The epidemic of drug abuse and efforts to increase the availability of services are also being expanded. New detox stabilization units will begin operating in the Northern Panhandle, Greenbrier, and Logan Counties. And programs like the Healing Place in Huntington are expanding their services to reach out to more people needing help.
Passing the Justice Reinvestment Act has resulted in reduced overcrowding in regional jails by more than 600 individuals and a reduction in the overall number of corrections inmates – for the first time in 16 years – by almost 300 individuals. Through Justice Reinvestment efforts, our inmates out of Regional Jails and into placements offering substance abuse and job training services.
The National Boy Scout Jamboree last summer welcomed more than 40,000 scouts, troop leaders, and volunteers to Fayette County’s Bechtel Summit. The scouts climbed mountains, tamed the New River, and experienced twelve unforgettable days of “wild and wonderful” adventure. In addition to enjoying and learning about West Virginia, the scouts also performed service projects throughout the southern counties.
The governor recognized one of the volunteer leaders to the thousands of Boys Scouts with us this summer including Troy Householder of Bridgeport.
“Troy is just one of the hundreds of adult volunteers in West Virginia who teach the building blocks of character and life skills to our young scouts. Troy is with us tonight along with his wife Louisa, son Corbin—an Eagle Scout, his son Carter—a Life Scout and his daughter Jena a member of the Venture Crew.”
West Virginia must also be prepared to take care of veterans and some of the programs include:
· The Department of Veterans Assistance is helping veterans further their education through our higher education system.
· The Hershel Woody Williams Medal of Honor Foundation, the Department unveiled the first ever Gold Star Families Memorial Monument. This monument located at the Donel C. Kinnard Memorial State Veterans Cemetery honors the family members of those who have lost a loved one in combat.
· The West Virginia Veterans Home is working with the VA Medical Center’s Homeless Veterans Resource Center to provide immediate shelter to homeless veterans.
“Homelessness also includes hard-working families who can’t make ends meet. It includes people with disabilities and children without support. Homelessness is devastating. We cannot turn our backs on our fellow West Virginians in need. I have revived the Interagency Council on Homelessness to bring together leaders who will work within the community to end homelessness in West Virginia,” said Tomblin.
Tomblin’s remarks concluded with a plea to young people of the state and those who have left the state for better opportunity.
“Tonight, I want to speak directly to the next generation of West Virginians. Our state has never had the solid financial security you enjoy today or the opportunities you will have tomorrow and for decades to come. It’s now up to you. Stay in school, stay off drugs, apply yourself and find your passion. The jobs will be here for you. The present is bright. And the future is brighter. For those who have left the Mountain State—come home. Come home to take advantage of the growing opportunities we are creating for you. Come home. West Virginia’s garden is thriving and we will yield a great harvest for years to come.”