The Times West Virginian

March 24, 2013

Vision Shared: State making some progress in economic development

By Jessica Borders
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — West Virginia is making some progress in economic development, but is still falling behind the region and country, Vision Shared Inc. reported.

In its annual economic development update, called the 2013 Performance Measures Report, Vision Shared found that the state has improved in 34 of 54 benchmarks, and has achieved eight of those benchmarks.

Vision Shared, a nonprofit community and economic development organization, has been working across West Virginia for a little more than a decade, said president and CEO Rebecca McPhail Randolph.

This statewide private-public partnership, which officially formed in 2000, was started as part of what used to be the governor’s West Virginia Council for Community and Economic Development, she said. The governor appointed leaders to serve on the council to work as volunteers to improve West Virginia’s economy. Vision Shared became a stand-alone, 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 2006.

From the beginning, Vision Shared’s board of directors decided that they should focus on issues affecting West Virginia’s progress. They wanted to establish goals for the key areas that they felt were most important to the economic foundation of the state, Randolph said.

She said Market Street Services Inc., an economic research firm based in Atlanta, Ga., under the direction of founder J. Mac Holladay, conducted an implementation plan for Vision Shared. This plan, released in 2000-2001, identified four issue areas that needed to be tracked, addressed and improved upon in order to better the state’s economic development and prosperity.

Vision Shared began producing its annual economic development update in 2006 based on the implementation plan.

The 2013 Performance Measures Report was just released earlier this month. The report is organized toward four distinct categories: Entrepreneurship, education, workforce development, and an innovative and diverse economy

“We hope that the report can continue to help chart West Virginia’s course,” Randolph said.

She said the report is intended to be a road map for the state’s success and to be used by individuals or groups interested in making a positive impact on the state. Vision Shared presents the findings to lawmakers in the House and Senate and other leaders in the state. The report is available to anyone online at www.visionshared.com.

Vision Shared’s major entrepreneurship goal is for West Virginia to rank No. 1 in the country in the percentage of residents who start a business by 2020. But it’s really disheartening to see that West Virginia came in dead last in this category, Randolph said.

“We’re hopeful as an organization to make West Virginia a more entrepreneurial environment,” she said.

Vision Shared is taking measures to create a more business-friendly state. The organization is a strong supporter of Senate Bill 520 to establish the West Virginia Project Launchpad Act, which Sen. Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, is considering as chair of the Finance Committee, Randolph said.

She said her organization feels that this legislation is innovative and could really help create job opportunities and allow West Virginia to retain its best and brightest workers. The bill focuses on economic changes and is geared toward developing new and emerging technologies.

Randolph explained that this legislation would give the governor the authority to designate launchpad areas in the state. County commissions and county councils would apply for the program, which would in turn offer benefits and incentives for employers in emerging technologies to locate in that area.

This bill has the potential to diversify the economy by attracting these new and emerging technologies to the state, and would play a part in helping West Virginia to thrive and be a vibrant place to live and do business, Randolph said.

For its main education goal, Vision Shared wants to see the state rated first in the nation in reading and math scores for fourth- and eighth-graders by 2020.

In terms of math scores, the state was ranked 45th in the percentage of fourth-grade public school students at or above proficiency level and 48th for eighth grade. As for reading scores, West Virginia came in 40th for fourth grade and 46th for eighth grade.

Randolph said Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s focus on making sure students are reading at grade level is very important for students to be successful.

On a positive note, West Virginia continues to maintain the percentage of adults attaining a GED, she said.

One of Vision Shared’s workforce-development goals is to increase the percentage of adults attaining a GED certificate to at least 2 percent per year by 2020. The state achieved this benchmark, and its GED attainment rate surpassed the rates of the region and nation, Randolph said.

In addition, West Virginia keeps exceeding the national level in the number of apprenticeships completed each year, she said. The state also achieved and retained the benchmark of reducing the workers’ compensation index rates to the regional average.

The state’s low unemployment rate compared to national levels is another plus.

Randolph said Vision Shared would like to see West Virginia continue to move forward with its numbers in post-secondary education.

Right now, the state is ranked 20th in the percentage of people ages 25 to 64 with an associate degree or higher. The objective is for the state to place among the top 20 percent internationally in this category

A lot of today’s jobs require more technical and classroom training, and Vision Shared considers that part of its goal for improving West Virginia’s workforce, Randolph said.

For more information or to view the full 2013 Performance Measures Report, visit www.visionshared.com.

Email Jessica Borders at jborders@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @JBordersTWV.