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We can do a lot better

It seems like we're really better off in West Virginia than we were 10 years ago. Or even 20.

But pardon us, Einstein: We have our own theory of relativity.

While we might be better off than we were, the rest of the country apparently is doing a whole lot better.

Let's just look at the West Virginia Outlook 2000, a project of the West Virginia University Bureau of Business and Economic Research, recently released for public consumption. The Outlook is an annual snapshot of West Virginia's economy, and a forecast of where the trends will likely take the state over the next five years.

The state added 6,500 jobs from 1998 to 1999, but the growth rate has been slowing, according to the outlook. While job growth averaged 1.6 percent per year from 1990 until 1999, in 1999 the growth rate was 0.9 percent.

Although employment increased in the categories of trade, services and government, the overall slower growth rate resulted from job losses in mining, construction, manufacturing, transportation (including auto and airplane parts), communications and public utilities.

Coal mining alone lost 2,200 jobs in 1999, and coal production fell from its 1998 levels.

In short, we take 212 steps forward, then 2 steps back. Meanwhile, places like Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Colorado, California are all jumping ahead 4 steps and not taking any steps back.

The study points to the fact that we're not adding enough of the high-paying service jobs that require higher education.

So, how do we get those kinds of jobs here?

Building a planned community like Charles Pointe is a start. While we know the stereotypes about cloven-hooved, banjo-playing freaks in these here hills are myths, outsiders still buy into those beliefs, big time. Maybe a few rocket scientists will come here, like it and tell their friends. That would be a great start.

We also need to work hard on secondary education and higher education.

We must find a way to propel our colleges and universities to the top, and our high schools, junior highs and elementaries, too. And we then must find ways to keep our young people here. It surely won't make sense to give them a grand education only to see them put it to good use in Ohio, North Carolina or Florida. We'll have to find ways to give young people what they want: Namely, more young people, excitement and plenty of cultural opportunities.

Some would argue that creating better schools can be linked directly to teachers' salaries. That may be part of the solution, but we believe teachers also must show that they're worth those salaries. In short, there often are complaints that bad teachers are protected by the system; that simply cannot happen if we're going to ever make this thing work.

If all this sounds like a daunting task, it is.

Gov.-elect Bob Wise and the other members of West Virginia's leadership at the state Capitol have plenty of work ahead of them.

It will be crucial for them to make wise decisions, especially regarding education.

Is it possible? We hope so.

And there is one plus on our side: Because we're not perched on any high economic perch, we theoretically shouldn't have as far to fall if the wrangling between our two would-be kings (presidents) brings our national economy crashing down.

Today's editorial reflects the opinion of the Exponent editorial board, which is comprised of James G. Logue, Kevin S. Courtney, Patrick M. Martin, Matt Harvey, Nora Edinger and J. Cecil Jarvis.

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