The Times West Virginian

September 9, 2012

State ‘on the move’

Chamber chairman: Look for ‘every way possible’ to boost economy

By Jessica Borders
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — Tom Jones looks forward to working with the business community to achieve their goals as the new chairman of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce.

For 10 years, Jones has been the president and CEO of the West Virginia United Health System, which is headquartered in the Alan B. Mollohan Innovation Center in Fairmont’s I-79 Technology Park. He lives in Morgantown.

This West Virginia native primarily grew up in the Clarksburg/ Morgantown area and graduated from Morgantown High School. Jones went to West Virginia University, where he received his undergraduate degree in business administration with a major in accounting, and the University of Minnesota, where he earned his master’s degree in hospital administration.

He explained that the West Virginia United Health System, formed in 1996, has six hospitals that stretch from the Potomac River to the Ohio River, included two facilities in the Eastern Panhandle, two in North Central West Virginia and two in Parkersburg. It is the largest health-care system in West Virginia, with revenues of approximately $1.5 billion annually, and the second-largest employer in the state, with more than 11,000 employees.

Jones was previously the CEO of the Genesis Hospital System and St. Mary’s Hospital in Huntington and chief operating officer at Wheeling Hospital. He formerly served as chairman of the West Virginia Hospital Association, West Virginia Roundtable, Morgantown and Huntington chambers of commerce, and West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission.

For a number of years, Jones has been on the board of directors for the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce. He has been part of the executive committee for the last five years.

Steve Roberts, president of the chamber, said the organization holds an election every year for chairman, and that individual typically serves one term.

He said Jones was elected chairman by the membership at its 76th annual meeting, which is the West Virginia Business Summit, held on Aug. 29. Richard Adams, who is the chairman and CEO of United Bankshares Inc., was elected vice chairman of the chamber.

“Tom is highly regarded throughout West Virginia by employers, health-care professionals, political and financial leaders,” Roberts said of Jones. “He has a broad level of experience in job creation and economic development. He fits the mold of many of his noteworthy predecessors as chairman of the chamber.”

Roberts said the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce is the largest association of businesses in the state, and its members employ more than half of West Virginia’s private-sector workforce. The membership is broad and diverse and extends into every one of West Virginia’s counties.

While there are other business organizations that are geographically focused or concentrate on a particular industry, the chamber members come from across the state, Jones added.

“It’s the only organization that truly speaks for all business throughout the state,” he said. “They range from very small businesses to very large businesses.”

Jones got started as chairman right away and has been on the job for a week and a half now.

In this role, Jones said he will lead the executive committee and work with the committee and Roberts to determine their priorities and make a strategic plan. He will also represent the members before the legislature and other bodies in order to make the chamber’s position known.

“I think it’s exciting,” Jones said of being elected as chairman. “I think West Virginia is on the move. A number of things have been done both legislatively and judicially to make West Virginia a more business-friendly state.”

He said West Virginia certainly has challenges, but also has many positive aspects, and there is more work to be done.

While the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia basically believes that the state’s judicial system doesn’t need a business court, the chamber intends to evaluate the idea this year. The organization also plans to look at tax codes for businesses and monitor legislation involving workers’ compensation and working conditions so businesses can grow and prosper in West Virginia, Jones said.

“We’ll be focusing on economic development and job creation,” Roberts added. “We’ll be looking for every way possible to improve the economy of West Virginia.”

He said he is ready to work with the governor and state leaders to try to restore the economy. The chamber is also very concerned about the health of the coal industry and will focus on energy issues as well.

Anything that hurts coal will hurt West Virginia, and the chamber will stand up for coal. The organization will also support energy production throughout the state, because natural gas is also very important here, Roberts said.

The chamber also wants to make sure that the state can regain a reputation as a place where everyone gains a fair trial, he said.

Jones said the chamber also provides a number of educational programs to its members on topics including workers compensation, unemployment, safety, the new healthcare reform legislation, and many other subjects.

“If you’re not a member of the chamber, we would welcome your consideration,” he said.

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