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Focus Forward 2022: West Virginia’s New Narrative

More than 200 business and non-profit leaders, government officials, researchers, educators, innovators and community members engaged in dynamic, forward-thinking discussions to ensure West Virginia stays competitive, relevant and resilient in an evolving global economy.

April 27, 2022

9 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Morgantown Marriott at Waterfront Place | Morgantown, WV

Key Takeaways from Focus Forward

Shaping West Virginia’s Energy Sector for Opportunity and Relevance in an Evolving Global Economy

  • Four components essential to a promising future for West Virginia’s energy communities include: upgrading infrastructure, cleaning up environmental damage, promoting entrepreneurship and supporting workforce development.
  • In an initial report to the President, coal communities were identified as immediately challenged, with five of the 25 identified communities located in West Virginia.
  • Billions of dollars in federal funding opportunities are available to revitalize energy communities.

Leveraging West Virginia’s Energy Assets of the Past to Generate Products of the Future

  • The GDP associated with coal production and other traditional industries can be replaced by advancements in other technologies.
  • With new technology available, West Virginia can repair or upgrade its infrastructure to achieve safety, reliability, resilience and efficiency to eliminate or reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • There are possibilities for hydrogen hubs to be located in West Virginia as well as an opportunity for individuals to work in the industry.
  • A broader understanding of energy science in K-12 education is needed to keep West Virginia focused forward on the skills and know-how needed to fill jobs of the future.
    • Energy and technology sciences
    • Early exposure in schools to potential job opportunities
    • Foster stronger connections between schools and business leaders, scientists and entrepreneurs.

Armchair Discussion: Job Resiliency for Today’s and Tomorrow’s Workforce

  • In addition to academics, it is critical to support students in other ways (including mental health, housing, food, transportation, etc.) due to the challenges students face at home and outside of the classroom.
  • To prepare students for jobs of the future, increased emphasis on “soft skills” is needed. Students must learn to build relationships through communication, collaboration and kindness, as well as problem solve, think critically and learn self- discipline.
  • STEAM education offers a wide variety of benefits for students, including the development of soft skills and increased student engagement and motivation. Language and creative arts should be integrated into all curricula.
  • We should consider rethinking civic education to emphasize civil literacy and discourse.
  • West Virginia can be a leader in reshaping and rethinking how we educate today’s students to best prepare them to succeed in an ever-evolving workforce.

Empowering Lasting Workforce: Education and Community Growth

  • Expanding broadband to every corner is West Virginia is crucial to long-term sustainability in our schools and communities. Students must have access to learn, study and gain information through high speed internet services while families must have reliable access to telehealth services.
  • West Virginia is attractive to remote employees thanks to its scenery and outdoor assets. However, connections to broadband and technologies are essential to contonue to attract new community members and top talent.
  • Several grants and programs are available to support Appalachian communities through the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC):
    • The ARC Power Grant is specifically designed to rebuild coal-impacted communities.
    • The ARC Inspire Grant addresses the substance abuse disorder crisis by assisting individuals with rehabilitation, housing, and job preparation and training that will lead to workforce entry or reentry.
    • The ARC offers virtual training for communities to secure and use federal funds.
    • The ARC Leadership Institute is a comprehensive leadership and economic development training opportunity for people who live and/or work in Appalachia and are passionate about helping their communities thrive. West Virginia community leaders should apply!
  • Forging strong relationships between the ARC and state agencies help advance and grow local communities.
  • The ARC is taking a regional approach to solving problems by encouraging states to work together to address challenges head on and find solutions that may work throughout the Appalachian region.
  • The ARC’s “new narrative” is to empower local communities to compete at the global level.

Community Leadership in Future Job Planning

  • To be successful in the workplace, individuals must learn how to communicate effectively. Soft skills training in the workplace could retain more workers.
  • Post-COVID-19, people seek more flexibility regarding hours, where they work, access to childcare, etc.
  • West Virginia must have enticing assets (i.e. the outdoor economy, work-life balance, sense of community, etc.) and infrastructure (broadband access, strong education system, etc.) to support new employers and families who relocate to the area.
  • Leadership development and peer network opportunities are attractive to prospective employees.

The Changing Culture of Work

  • Improvements in infrastructure (housing, broadband, healthcare, transportation, etc.) and increased flexibility (wages, access to childcare, mental health services, etc.) are needed to remain competitive in the job market.
  • Opportunities for people to connect, even if they are not physically in the office together, are important to include in today’s changing work environment.
  • Ascend WV offers a model for a scalable remote worker program. Ascend WV aspires to attract students and professionals to move/stay in West Virginia to work remotely, engage in the community and take advantage of the state’s outdoor assets.
  • As jobs/roles are no longer bound by geography, organizations can start to look for the employees who match their company’s goals, who want to be a part of their communities
  • Not everyone can work remotely (healthcare, manufacturing, energy sectors, etc.), but there are other “perks” employers can offer to remain competitive.
    • Offer free or affordable childcare, possibly on-site
    • Offer micro-transportation to employees
    • Provide on-the-job professional development opportunities
    • Provide paid family leave
    • Extend maternity leave
    • Emphasize employee culture and use it to attract and retain employees

what to expect

West Virginians are writing a new narrative today to prepare for the West Virginia of tomorrow. 

Focus Forward: West Virginia’s New Narrative showcased stories of innovation in government and industry, resiliency in education, and leadership in the changing culture of work in a global economy. 

These stories are meant to serve as a catalyst to mobilize public-private partnerships, generate forward-thinking ideas, spur investment, innovate changing industries, and most importantly, look ahead to determine how we want to write our next chapters in history. 

The extent of the opportunities on West Virginia’s horizon are boundless. Focus Forward provides a glimmer for what the future holds. 

Groundbreaking research. The utilization of our energy assets beyond coal and how it’s used today. Local communities rebuilding and reinventing themselves. Industry sectors changing with the times to better recruit and retain top talent. Educators preparing tomorrow’s leaders for jobs of the future.

These stories and more are framing West Virginia’s narrative today and tomorrow.

Whether you’re a researcher, non-profit leader, community organizer, policymaker or K-12 educator, Focus Forward challenges you to join these conversations, take in the information and viewpoints shared, and help us mobilize toward West Virginia’s most promising future.