I’m sick and tired of being from a mediocre state where my generation lacks the freedom to pursue individual excellence.
There, I said what many of my fellow peers are thinking.
As a member of Generation Y or the Millennial Generation, I’m a 22 year-old college graduate who faces bleak employment prospects in my native state. The brain drain plagues West Virginia as its citizens pursue higher education here, get their degrees, and leave for job opportunities elsewhere. If I cannot create a future here, holding a good-paying job, what reason do I have to stay?
West Virginia consistently ranks lowest among states with the economic freedom that attracts prospective businesses. However, young West Virginians, like me, feel a connection with our state, its natural beauty, the ideals upon which it was founded, and our sense of community. In order to keep us here at home, West Virginia must follow the example of more prosperous states to create an environment of economic liberty, encourage innovation, and in the end, welcome a diverse community.
The freedom to pursue economic opportunities, free of burdensome obstacles, brings prosperity to a region. In short, businesses must willingly locate in our state, but with many ineffective regulations and hefty taxes, the costs are too high for our state to be economically attractive. For example, certificates of need (CON) must be obtained from the state government before starting certain businesses, such as taxi companies, hospitals, or electrical power plants.
However, the legislators who review these requests are usually captivated by the special interests of established businesses, and they can refuse the requests to limit competition for their privileged supporters.
Repealing ineffective regulation and lowering taxes are among the most important steps in creating an environment of economic freedom. Individuals should decide with their own local knowledge that our state has opportunities for success. If a company finds that locating in West Virginia will be profitable, the business leaders will excel, along with the local citizens who improve through better work.
We need to train in ideas, as well as physical labor, and we must welcome the ideas of others. Creativity drives innovation, and then that innovation is realized through physical labor. Thinking of trend-setting places in ideas, such as Silicon Valley, one conjures up images of great wealth where individuals are setting the standard for new technology. Intelligent individuals locate in these areas because of opportunities for achieving excellence, yet we lack areas that attract the best and the brightest.
Instead of only being able to perform the manufacturing labor, in the future, West Virginia must innovate and share our ideas with others to create a more prosperous home. In our state, where there are centers of ideas, such as Morgantown with WVU, Wheeling with its history of innovation, and Charleston as the center of government, there are opportunities for pursuing one’s own excellence and improving the conditions of others.
While West Virginians undoubtedly foster a sense of community within their own regions, we need a stronger sense of community throughout the state. If we become the economic powerhouse that attracts many different individuals, our state must welcome this diversity. Currently, West Virginians are fearful of outsiders for a variety of reasons that make those individuals stand out from the natives.
However, as part of the changes to our environment, we must be reminded to change our preconceptions of others that will migrate here for future opportunities. Diversity chases excellence. The most prosperous parts of our nation also happen to be the most diverse, with many different cultures and lifestyles represented in New York City, Washington, and Los Angeles.
Truth is rarely spoken in politics, but this is the unwelcome truth that West Virginians need to hear. Our state is at the bottom when it comes to opportunities for the next generation, but it need not be this way. The public officials must change how they govern, and all of us can do something to create a better future.
Everyone looks at the top of a pyramid as momentous, but the foundation provides support for the entire structure. We are the foundation, and as such, we have the power to make changes at the top. One day I hope to see a new, prosperous West Virginia that is truly open for business.
The responsibility to create a better state for my generation falls on the shoulders of all West Virginians. The choice is ours to ignore it and fall back into the same routine, or carry that burden and create something wild and wonderful for our state.
Amy Purpura, of Wheeling WV, (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a researcher for the Public Policy Foundation of West Virginia.