I constantly hear people in Washington and across the country talking about an economic recovery. I hear them talk about how high the stock market is and how corporate profits and GDP are growing. And while that may be true, southern West Virginia has been left out of that recovery. As a result, the Main Streets across southern West Virginia continue to suffer, as Wall Street continues to amass excessive profits.
This issue is not a Democratic or Republican issue. This is a West Virginia issue that is especially felt in our southernmost counties. These communities have suffered significant economic losses over the past several years due to sharp declines in production and productivity in the energy sector. While statewide coal production has dropped by one-third since 2008, southern counties have been impacted especially harshly, with a more than 50 percent drop in coal production in the region over the past decade.
These hits to southern West Virginia’s economy have resulted in little to negative income growth and higher than average unemployment rates. As of January, the unemployment rate in Logan County was 12.3 percent and it far exceeded the state average of 7.4 percent. The national average is 4.9 percent.
I have always said that government cannot create every job, but it can create an environment that promotes job growth, fosters economic expansion and offers those in need a hand up, instead of a hand out. That is why I believe no idea is too small when it comes to putting people back to work and giving West Virginians new employment opportunities. One idea that has had substantial success is Mined Minds, a free computer coding program that helps train people for careers in the technology industry.
Like many coal miners in West Virginia and in coal communities across this nation, Marvin Laucher feared the decline in the coal mining industry would lead to the loss of his job. After five years in the coal mining industry, Marvin talked to his sister Amanda Laucher and her husband, Jonathan Graham, about the significant job losses in his mining community and of his fears. As technology consultants, Amanda and Jonathan saw an opportunity to make a difference and knew they had to do something to help these communities.
Amanda and Jonathan, Chicago based technology consultants, decided to start offering online courses during the week and travel to Pennsylvania every other weekend to teach free computer programming courses. The goal of Mined Minds is to encourage people, that no matter what their background, they can code and that careers in computer programming can provide for themselves and their families. It’s organizations like Mined Minds that are changing lives one by one in the communities that have been hardest hit.
Mined Minds will be at the Coalfields Job Fair that I am co-hosting with WorkForce West Virginia, Region 2 Workforce Investment Board, Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College and many others across the region. We’ve been working together for months to attract employers to the job fair, and to plan a quality event that will give hope and jobs to the region. Mined Minds is one of over 135 employers in a variety of industries and resources who have registered to connect with hardworking West Virginians looking for meaningful employment. The fair is free and open to everyone, and will be held at the Chief Logan Convention Center, 1000 Conference Center Dr. in Logan on May 6 from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.
If you or someone in your family needs a job, or needs help with the job search process, the Chief Logan Convention Center is the place to be on Friday.
As a former small businessman myself, I understand firsthand how hard the people of the Mountain State work. Given the opportunity, West Virginians thrive at work, be it the owner of a grocery store, the miner working to harvest our vast natural resources, the nurse saving lives each and every day, or the teacher who is inspiring our next generation of leaders in the classroom. We are in this together, and that is why ensuring that everyone in our state who wants a job, has a job, remains my top priority in Washington.
I am no stranger to economic hardship. My hometown of Farmington wasn’t rich with material goods; in fact, most people outside of our town would have described us as poor. However, we saw ourselves as hardworking, patriotic and proud. Our small town and state have done the heavy lifting that has built our country, powered our economy and fought our wars. We mined the coal that powered our state and our country through wars and recession, but also to peace and prosperity. We have survived through tough economic times because of our determination and work ethic, but now our state, especially its southernmost counties, needs help.
As your U.S. Senator, I remain focused on supporting West Virginia’s continued economic development, and these job fairs serve as an invaluable opportunity to connect our hardworking citizens with the employers in need of their skills. The better we build these bridges and foster these connections, the more positive the economic outlook of our state will be for decades to come.
Joe Manchin III is the senior United States Senator from West Virginia. He can be reached at 202-224-3954 or follow him on Twitter at @Sen_JoeManchin