West Virginia Department of Commerce – West Virginia: Open for Business – Kelley Goes




West Virginia has some of the US's cheapest energy, as well as a skilled workforce and a raft of incentives for new business. Kelley Goes, secretary of the state's Department of Commerce, explains the upside for companies that settle there.

It might be known as a small-town state, but West Virginia is thinking big for business. The state is already home to several international companies and is looking for more to relocate there. It is also one of the few US states that ended the last fiscal year with a surplus ($168m).

Kelley Goes, secretary of West Virginia's Department of Commerce and executive director of the state's development office, believes that the state's economic health sends a powerful message to prospective investors. "We're not interested in taxing these companies," she says.

"We operate from a position of strength, not debt. We want companies to enjoy the benefits of a strong economy."

Cheap energy and running costs are drawing companies to the state, which is ranked in the top 15 least expensive places to do business in the US. Since 2005, West Virginia has received more that $13bn of new investment, and its exports from 2005-09 were worth around $20bn.

It is also one of the US's biggest energy exporters, with 67-70% of its output leaving the state. Primary industries in the state are chemical and polymer-related and there is good growth in the aeronautic, automotive and material sciences industries. A new Alcon plant has sparked the beginnings of a medical device production industry, and an FBI lab has kick-started West Virginia's biometrics sector.

Train to gain

"Cheap energy and running costs are drawing companies to the state, which is ranked in the top 15 least expensive places to do business in the US."

As well as thriving industries and low running costs, the state supplies a 'pipeline' of employees with relevant skillsets. There is already an advanced skill level for high-tech manufacturing among West Virginia workers, and companies can create their own specific training programmes with the development office's help.

For example, the office previously partnered with a West Virginia technical college to create a specific training programme for a company. "The chancellor of a higher education institution and a community technical college went through the process, course by course, and identified only two other colleges in the rest of the country that offered a course similar to what the company wanted," Goes explains. "We tailored a course for it, and now several West Virginia colleges provide training for its workforce." In the future, the offices plan to offer a four-year course based on the current two-year programme.

The state will soon roll out two specialised training centres to provide on-demand training. They will be built and manufactured with 'flexspace' so that tutors can bring in machinery or computer hardware and lead hands-on lessons. In addition, the state's university system was recently bolstered with the launch of the Bucks for Brains campaign, which matches the funds that universities raise for themselves.

The campaign is in its third year and still running on the initial allocation of $50m. Whatever human resources a business needs, the development office is the first point of call. It acts as a one-stop shop by assigning a representative to every project and drawing up a 'menu' of all the credit services and incentives available. "It's a very hands-on, personalised service," Goes explains. Clients can contact everyone they need through the office, from environmental agencies to local developers.

Goes describes the workforce as highly skilled with a strong work ethic. "We're natural problem-solvers," she says, "because you can't carve out a life in a mountainous region like ours if you can't do things for yourself."

The state continues to carve a niche for itself on the factors it won't change: abundant natural resources, generous financial incentives and a skilled pool of employees.   

Kelley Goes, secretary of West Virginia's Department of Commerce and executive director of the state's development office.