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Same old song and dance

West Virginia University's Bureau of Economic and Business Research attempted to put a positive spin on the state's economy in its latest study that was released Thursday, but to us it's the same old song and dance.

While much of the nation can expect robust economic growth in the near future, West Virginia will continue to lag behind. According to the study, the state should add 2,500 jobs next year, and average about 5,900 new jobs a year through 2008.

However, that pales in comparison to the national average for job gains, which will double the Mountain State's 0.8 percent projected growth.

"There's a good chance that things are looking up for West Virginia, and that job growth will accelerate into 2005," said George Hammond, the bureau's director.

But Hammond immediately qualifies this statement by saying that, "The drawback is that the growth will be much weaker than the overall U.S. economy," and the emphasis here is on the word "much."

And while the state has cut the income gap over the past couple of years, the margin is expected to widen again as the national economy takes off.

"We'll be better off in five years, but we'll feel worse about it," Hammond said.

Ready for another dose of bad news? The report says that most new jobs in the state will come from the service sector, which traditionally pays much less than manufacturing jobs. Unfortunately, the exodus of high-paying manufacturing jobs will continue with expected further declines in the coal mining, steel and glass industries.

The report is not that sanguine about our future economic activity here, so it should prompt our state leaders to find a way to redress this imbalance in expected job growth because West Virginia will continue to trail until some of its systemic problems are corrected.

Our officials could make a concerted effort to improve the state's business climate, continue to encourage more of our high school graduates to attend college and add more infrastructure to foster economic growth.

West Virginia has some positive traits it can promote to companies looking to build here, such as a labor force with a strong work ethic and a quality college system. But we have to attract high-paying jobs in order to close the income gap, and the state's "brain drain" has to cease. Retaining our best graduates is another goal that should be examined.

Patrick Martin