by Randy Coleman
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
CHARLESTON -- The Legislature accomplished a critical economic development goal this year when it formed a commission to oversee all state-supported development projects, said the chairman of a committee that looked at the issue.
A bill, SB716, sent to Gov. Bob Wise for his signature, would establish the West Virginia Economic Development Competitiveness Act and would place the state's Development Office under the new commission's control.
"That was our primary goal, in terms of economic development, getting that bill passed. We have lots of broad and complex issues to deal with, and we felt this was the vehicle to do it with," said Sen. Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha.
McCabe chaired a committee formed by Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin, D-Logan, which studied development issues.
Under the bill, the Development Office and the state Department of Tax and Revenue would be required to submit annual reports to the commission. The reports would include information on economic development investments, tourism expenditures, new businesses and tax incentives to entice new businesses. The information would be public.
The 16-member group would be known as the Joint Commission on Economic Development and would include the chairmen and chairwomen of the House and Senate finance, judiciary, education and health and human resources committees. The other eight members would be appointed by the Senate president and the House speaker.
McCabe said he would like to see a special session in the fall on economic development issues.
"I think in a special session we could deal with some workforce development issues and some matters involving how we use incentives to attract businesses," McCabe said.
The Development Office and the Legislature also should form regional economic development plans, he said.
The Legislature also passed a resolution which would extend a committee that is examining how the state implements job-training programs.
Several state agencies manage about $330 million in state and federal workforce investment grants, said Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, chairman of the job-training committee.
"By passing the economic development act and by extending our committee, I think we accomplished some good things," Unger said.
Lawmakers also passed a bill, SB717, which would authorize the state Treasurer's Office to put $25 million into a certificate of deposit. Interest form that CD could be used for small business loans.
"Businesses are always asking, 'Can you do anything for us?"' Unger said. "Well, we think this is something that will help."