- Associated Press - Friday, January 13, 2017

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) - West Virginia Gov.-elect Jim Justice told a conference focused on long-term economic recovery from last summer’s devastating floods that he plans to restore hope and opportunities to the state.

Without offering specifics, Justice told several dozen people Friday at Marshall University that “it’s time to drag ourselves out of this mess.”

Researchers at West Virginia University have said economic indicators show the state is continuing to emerge from a recession, although the recovery has been lackluster compared to previous business cycles due to the floods and other economic issues.

Flooding in late June killed 23 people and destroyed or damaged thousands of homes, businesses, roads and bridges.

Justice personally experienced the devastation. The Greenbrier resort that he owns was hit hard by the floods, which forced the cancellation of the PGA Tour’s Greenbrier Classic. He also said his agricultural crops in North Carolina and South Carolina were damaged by Hurricane Matthew.

Like the high school basketball teams that he coaches and are having successful seasons, Justice gave a pep talk to his audience, asking them to buy into what he wants to do after he’s inaugurated Monday.

“I need you in every way because we need to pull our way out of the recovery process that we’re in right now,” he said. “How are we going to do it? I promise you that I will bring you ideas.

“I’ll need you to say, ‘I’m with him.’ I will not bring you an idea that’s a crazy idea.’”

The conference, co-hosted by the group West Virginia Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, drew speakers from government, business, higher education and nonprofit groups.

Some panelists didn’t mention the floods but spoke in general about the need to prop up the state’s struggling economy by diversifying the state’s workforce and industries and creating more learning opportunities for students.

Former state Sen. Brooks McCabe, who has been involved in commercial and investment real estate for more than 30 years, made an impassioned plea for “nature-based” economic development, including more alternative uses of coal and natural gas, and exploring opportunities to create more recreational lakes to boost tourism.

“Failure for us is not an option,” said Charleston corporate tax consultant Rick Slater. “There’s not too many ways we can move backward. It’s going to require a lot of trust. It’s going to require a lot of patience.”

A similar conference is scheduled at West Virginia University this spring.

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