West Virginia is losing residents at an alarming rate. According to a Pew study, the state's population shrank by over 18,000 people between 2007 and 2017. This is such a sharp decline that some utilities are raising their rates, claiming their operating costs must be recouped from far fewer people.
The state has become a mecca for tourists. They come to ride or walk the Hatfield-McCoy trail system, or to enjoy the many natural wonders to be found in abundance. They come to hunt, fish, boat or ski.
But eventually, the tourists leave. They may come back, but they do not put as much money into the economy as someone who lives and works in the state year-round.
How can West Virginia get people to put roots down and stay for good?
Once someone gets past the hospitable veneer of tourism, less than savory things come to light. Despite the Trump administration proclaiming an end to the (non-existent) Obama war on coal, the state's overall economy is still fragile.
Under Jim Justice, a coal baron who dislikes paying his bills, the state government is still more concerned with infighting than getting things done.
The promised changes Justice rode to the governor's mansion on have largely failed to materialize. Justice himself is virtually a ghost in Charleston, showing up once in a blue moon to actually go to work.
State legislators are apparently content to keep West Virginia a mono-economy, dependent on coal to survive, even though the world is gradually turning away from coal.
West Virginia's regulatory and tax system is still a confusing mess, which discourages companies from moving to the state.
Above all, the state's qualified workforce is in a sad state. Fewer able-bodied adults of working age are employed or even seeking employment. The opioid scourge continues to wreak havoc among the people. Overworked and understaffed schools and colleges sometimes aren't able to prepare graduates properly for life as productive citizens.
Our elected officials simply must try harder to make West Virginia a place where people -- and businesses -- want to come... and never leave.
As it stands now, officials mostly act like a home seller dealing with a showing on short notice. They spruce up the entrance and give a few superficial things a lick and a promise, while hoping no one notices the dirt on the carpet or the junk in the closets.