As he did with his last State of the State address a year ago, West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin today offered some straight talk about the future of our state’s coal industry:
While we all continue to hope that the coal industry will rebound, that hasn’t happened quickly and it likely won’t ever return to the levels that we once saw.
The governor continued:
We continue to work to diversify our economy and I know the improvements we’ve made will pay long-term dividends in job growth and investment.
Gov. Tomblin also touted his major effort at trying to diversify our coalfield communities:
It was here in this chamber, one year ago during my State of the State Address, where I announced plans for the largest development project in West Virginia’s history at the former Hobet surface mine site.
Since last year at this time, we have worked every day and we have made tremendous progress on this project, which is now known as Rock Creek Development Park.
We have worked with local landowners, who are generously donating land that will result in more than 12,000 developable acres for Rock Creek, which is the size of the city of Huntington.
The West Virginia National Guard-Rock Creek’s first tenant-is on the ground with newly-expanded operations for maintenance work and training.
And we have a long-term strategic plan now in place, which looks at demographics and market trends to help us identify the best investment opportunities for Rock Creek.
For generations, our coal miners, workers and their families have kept West Virginia strong. Now, it’s our turn to help them.
By realizing the full potential of Rock Creek Development Park for job creation and economic diversification, we can build up a region of our state hard hit by the downturn in the coal industry.
My vision for Rock Creek started many years ago as I rode my four-wheeler around the hills of Southern West Virginia and saw the possibilities that such an enormous site-with such a great amount of flat land-could have.
Embracing opportunities like this takes careful thought and planning, and this public-private project will require some investment by the state. But I believe wholeheartedly that the returns will vastly exceed our investment.
Ever the optimist, Gov. Tomblin also said:
We have all seen the dramatic impact of the coal industry’s decline in our state. We’ve seen thousands of jobs lost. Families and communities struggling. People beginning to lose hope. But I believe in — and have fought to reach — the light around the corner.