- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

Dec. 17

Charleston (West Virginia) Daily Mail on state’s business climate:

On the West Virginia economic front, readers found good news and bad news in Tuesday’s Daily Mail.

The good news is that West Virginia has landed the North American headquarters of Diamond Electric, a Japan-based automotive ignition coil manufacturer. The company is moving its regional headquarters from Michigan to Eleanor, consolidating Diamond’s main U.S. office with its existing operation in Putnam County.

“We’re honored Diamond Electric has selected West Virginia as the new home for its headquarters facility,” Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said Monday in announcing the company’s move. “I truly appreciate the confidence in not only our state and our business climate, but West Virginia’s growing and dependable workforce as well.”

Diamond Electric first built a manufacturing facility in Eleanor in 1997 and has expanded it several times. It is now the company’s largest manufacturing plant.

“We’ve worked hard in West Virginia to create a business climate that allows us to compete for projects like Diamond Electric’s expansion,” Tomblin said. “Companies around the world are noticing the changes we’ve made.”

Tomblin pointed out that the state has cut business taxes, reduced workers compensation costs, and state businesses saw the tenth straight reduction in workers compensation premiums.

Diamond Electric’s move seems proof that West Virginia is improving.

The bad news, however, is that for the fifth-consecutive year, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals is listed as a “judicial hellhole” in the American Tort Reform Association’s annual report.

West Virginia actually moved up a spot, from fourth to third worst, following the ABC News report earlier this month of how a plaintiff’s attorney in a nursing home case apparently gamed the Court en route to a $38 million verdict, netting the attorney’s firm $17 million.

“The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals rarely misses an opportunity to abandon traditional tort law and adopt expansive theories of liability,” the Tort Reform group states. “The state’s only appellate court also allowed scientifically unsound expert testimony and rendered a transparently results-oriented decision, written by a plainly conflicted chief justice, which sustained a significant portion of a flawed punitive damages award.”

Citizens still deserve answers on the nursing home case. Plaintiff’s attorney Michael Fuller arranged for campaign contributions to Chief Justice Robin Davis, bought a jet from her husband’s law firm, and hired the firm of Justice Menis Ketchum’s son, causing Ketchum, a stated proponent of liability caps that might have made a difference in the pending case, to recuse himself.

As long as such questionable activities remain at the state’s high court, good news like Diamond Electric will be shadowed by the judicial hellhole image.

Online:

https://www.charlestondailymail.com

___

Dec. 17

The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia, on workforce issues:

WorkForce West Virginia put its best foot forward for legislators in Charleston this week, telling lawmakers about its programs to help job seekers and employers.

WorkForce Deputy Director Valerie Comer said her agency has 26 programs and secured 43,012 job openings with 17,041 job orders.

It served 114,520 jobseekers, more than 81,000 of whom received staff assistance and nearly 44,700 of whom were referred to employment opportunities.

She also talked about the drug testing policy implemented in 2012 and has collected a total of 1,205 drug tests in the last year with less than a 1 percent failure rate for this year.

Sen. Bob Williams, D-Taylor, acting chair of the Legislative Oversight Commission on Workforce Investment for Economic Development, wondered why just 1,205 people were tested for drugs but 16,000 to 17,000 people are receiving benefits.

Comer said only people seeking tuition reimbursement are tested for drugs.

“We don’t test everybody who comes in looking for work,” she said.

That was a surprise to us, too.

When Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin in 2012 signed an executive order mandating drug tests for WorkForce West Virginia participants, we thought he was pretty clear:

“As a solution, I signed an executive order, which requires WorkForce West Virginia to require drug testing before providing services to those seeking employment,” Tomblin wrote at the time.

Well that’s not happening, at least not at WorkForce West Virginia.

The same day Comer was praising her agency, WorkForce West Virginia, the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority was also discussing workforce issues.

Diversifying the economy is one of the major focal points of NRGRDA, which seeks to find new ways to encourage economic development in Raleigh, Fayette, Summers and Nicholas counties.

The authority has had some success recently, the biggest being the new Mega-Site that is in the planning stages to be developed near Ghent.

Last week the NRGRDA said that as part of a three-year strategic plan it has targeted seven industries it wants to bring to the region or expand within the region.

The plan focuses on attracting agribusiness, back-office operations, distribution and logistics, energy, forest and wood products, manufacturing and tourism to the four-county area.

But the NRGRDA board has a better grasp on the realities of today’s job market than does WorkForce West Virginia.

Among the problems in attracting new businesses to locate here, or existing businesses to expand, are issues with the workforce in southern West Virginia.

Employers are growing increasingly frustrated with jobseekers who can’t pass a drug test. And, even when they do, they can’t seem to make it to work after getting hired. At least, this is what the NRGRDA says business leaders are saying.

Many of us in southern West Virginia often say the solution to all of our problems is attracting new, good-paying jobs. And we really do think that will go far in helping us diversify our economy and keep our kids and grandkids in the area.

But what if good-paying jobs arrive, or are already out there, and nobody wants to work?

It seems incredible to us that in southern West Virginia, an area legendary for its work ethic for two centuries, workers suddenly don’t seem to want a job.

For NRGRDA’s part, it is tackling the issue of worker training and retention itself. Officials say they are willing to work with existing and future area businesses on worker retention.

“We feel we better have some skin in that game and get involved,” Executive Director Chad Wykle said.

We hope some of that attitude rubs off on WorkForce West Virginia.

Online:

https://www.register-herald.com

___

Dec. 17

Herald-Dispatch, Huntington, West Virginia on tobacco prevention efforts:

Tobacco products generate huge amounts of revenue for state governments.

But how much of that money goes to smoking prevention efforts and helping smokers quit?

Far too little, a coalition of health organizations reports.

This fiscal year, states will collect $25.6 billion in revenue from tobacco taxes and the tobacco settlement agreement, which was reached in 1998 and continues to provide funds to states through 2025. But states will spend only about 2 percent of that on prevention and smoking cessation, according to a study sponsored by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Lung Association, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights.

That’s just a drop in the bucket compared with money spent to promote tobacco products. The report estimates cigarette and smokeless tobacco companies will spend about $8.8 billion this year $18 for every $1 spent to discourage tobacco use.

This is of particular concern in our region, where tobacco usage is high among adults and young people.

In West Virginia almost 20 percent of high school students smoke and 27 percent of adults, the highest rates in the country. Kentucky is not far behind at 18 percent for students and 26 percent for adults, and Ohio is only slightly better at 15 percent and 23 percent.

Meanwhile, all three states spend less than 3 percent of their tobacco tax revenue on prevention and cessation. West Virginia actually has the best performance of the three, budgeting about 18 percent of what the Center for Disease recommends. Ohio budgets about 6 percent of the CDC target and Kentucky 4.4 percent.

Florida, on the other hand, has a well-funded prevention effort and statistics that show it is working. The high school smoking rate there has dropped to 7.5 percent. If West Virginia could reduce teen smoking to that level, it would prevent 68,520 teens from becoming adult smokers and save $1.2 billion in future health care costs, the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free West Virginia projects.

As that example underscores, the public and individuals pay a high price for smoking.

West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio all need to re-examine the funding for their prevention and cessation programs and make a meaningful investment in reducing tobacco use.

Online:

https://www.herald-dispatch.com


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