By Sen. Joe Manchin
My grandparents, Papa Joe and Mama Kay, owned a small store in my hometown of Farmington, and they taught me how valuable a day's work for a day's pay can be to an individual, a family and a community. Our town wasn't rich with material goods; in fact, most people outside of our town would have described us as poor. But we described ourselves as hardworking, proud and patriotic. We mined the coal that powered our state and our country through wars and recession, but also to peace and prosperity. Our small town and state have done the heavy lifting that has built our country, powered our economy and fought our wars. We have survived through tough economic times because of our determination and work ethic, but now our state, especially its southernmost counties, needs help.
For far too long, Wall Street has amassed excessive profits while Main Streets across southern West Virginia have continued to suffer. I hear people in Washington and across the country talking about an economic recovery. I hear them talk about how high the stock market is and how corporate profits and GDP are growing. While that may be true, southern West Virginia has not been part of that recovery.
Communities across the southern portion of our state have suffered significant economic losses over the past several years due to sharp declines in production and productivity in the energy sector. While statewide coal production has dropped by one-third since 2008, southern counties have been impacted especially harshly, with a more than 50 percent drop in coal production in the region over the past decade.
These hits to southern West Virginia's economy have resulted in little to negative income growth and higher than average unemployment rates. As of January, the unemployment rate in Logan County was 12.3 percent and it far exceeded the state average of 7.4 percent. The Boone County rate of 11.2 percent tells a similar story. The national average is 4.9 percent.
I have always said that government cannot create every job, but it can create an environment that promotes job growth, fosters economic expansion and offers those in need a hand up, instead of a hand out. That is why I am committed to do everything I can to get southern West Virginia working again.
While I will continue to work at the federal level, changes at the federal level take time. The people of southern West Virginia cannot continue to wait for the state's economy to improve as they struggle to support themselves and their families.
As a first step in my efforts, I will be co-hosting the Big Coal River Job and Resource Fair with the Upper Big Branch Miners Memorial Fund and WorkForce West Virginia, an event that will provide our citizens with an opportunity to meet with potential employers, showcase their professional skills and backgrounds, and take the next step forward in their careers in a variety of industries.
The fair is open to everyone, and will be held at the Salamy Building in Whitesville, Thursday from 10 a.m. -- 4 p.m.
I encourage all southern West Virginians looking for a job, to switch careers, or to expand their professional horizons to attend this free event.
And I won't stop there; over the coming weeks, I will be announcing new initiatives and resources for our state, communities, businesses and residents to help us build the momentum necessary to get our economy growing.
I remain passionately committed to continue fighting against the destructive regulations that have caused this harm to our coal industry and our state. I will continue to fight in Washington for the conditions that will allow southern West Virginia's economy to thrive. Last month, I questioned U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernie Moniz on the significant job losses in our state and funding for clean coal technology research and development. I also recently delivered opening remarks to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on coal ash recycling legislation, emphasizing the importance of a common sense approach to ensuring the safe removal of coal ash while also preserving the economic opportunities associated with coal ash's re-use.
I will also continue to meet with the people of southern West Virginia to better understand their thoughts and concerns about the job climate and integrate their ideas into my work in Washington.
It is time to do what West Virginians do best: roll up our sleeves and get West Virginia working.
As a former small businessman myself, I understand firsthand how hard the people of the Mountain State work. Given the opportunity, West Virginians thrive at work, be it as the owner of a grocery store, the miner working to harvest our vast natural resources, the nurse saving lives each and every day or the teacher who is inspiring our next generation of leaders in the classroom. We are in this together, and that is why ensuring that everyone in our state who wants a job, has a job, remains my top priority in Washington.
This issue is not a Democratic or Republican issue. This is a West Virginia issue that is especially felt in our southernmost counties. I will work with business and labor, the tech and energy sectors, corporations and non-profits, government and religious organizations and anyone else that wants to keep West Virginia working. No idea is too small when it comes to putting people back to work and giving our residents new employment opportunities. I look forward to hearing from those who are as committed to our state as I am.
As your U.S. Senator, I will continue to focus on supporting West Virginia's continued economic development, and this fair will serve as an invaluable opportunity to connect our hardworking citizens with employers and resources. The better we build these bridges and foster these connections, the more positive the economic outlook of southern West Virginia will be for decades to come.
I stand ready to do everything I can to connect hard working West Virginians with good jobs.
-- Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is senior U.S. senator for the state of West Virginia