Opinion

March 2, 2020 - Volume 40 Issue 8

Commentary

  Opinion

By Greenbrier Almond, MD

Growing up in the 1950s in the central Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia I enjoyed a rich hill top neighborhood experience that looks almost too ideal compared to the trauma-informed childhoods many children face today. When the Buckhannon-Upshur High School Class of 1966 gathers to reminisce the oft heard remark coupled with a grateful sentiment for a rich family life with nourishing home grown food including gardens, chickens, pigs and cows, is that “we were poor but we did not know it!”

I entitle my lesson learned after a joke often repeated by the fathers of my friends who gathered in the evening after family suppers to pitch horseshoes: “West Virginia. A darn good state for the shape we are in.”

The double entendre makes a joke really funny when catching the meaning takes some head scratching thinking.

Of course, West Virginia is a  geographic puzzle with our northern and eastern panhandle as well as a major river, the Ohio , which does not bear West Virginia’s name.

The second part of the horseshoe pitcher’s joke Is that we are economically distressed but blessed. Then, the “Hillbilly Highway” pointed north. In the 1950s there were more West Virginians living in Akron, Ohio, than in West Virginia.

Our cousins came home on week-ends and for Summer Reunions.

WVSBA Conference Presentation

All of these childhood memories are triggered by an excellent academic presentation made during the West Virginia School Board Association (WVSBA) 2020 Winter Conference which was held February 21 and 22 in Charleston.

Professor John Deskins, Ph.D., Bureau of Business & Economic Research, College of Business & Economics, West Virginia University, helped us understand recent statewide trend affecting all of West Virginia – literally each West Virginian – as well as our local and state governments, including our school systems.

1. Deskins provided these findings (among other statistics):  

  • So sad — loses of 26,000 jobs.
  • Spotty economic growth in 7 of our 55 counties but devastating losses in the Southern coal fields and Kanawha County.
  • Ongoing energy picture with demise by 50% of coal production but rise of 34% of natural gas production.
  • Lingering effects of West Virginia’s recession which is considered to have occurred between  2011-2016 but whose effects linger.
  • Projections for Upshur County demographic trends and Pre-Kindergarten to 12 Enrollment to include a loss of 250 students through 2025.

My My! / Shall I laugh or cry?

As we said in my youth : “That is a long row to hoe!” But hoe we must. I take home 3 lessons:

1. Entrepreneurship is our key to a bright future. That means tripling the size of our Fred W. Eberle Technical Center, FETC, the first multi-county career technical center established in West Virginia. For example, we need more electricians who will do household electrical repair work for our very senior citizens while earning a good living of $100,000 per year.

By definition, not all start-up service companies will succeed but many will. Our students need to hear this and how to take the necessary risks to become entrepreneurs.

2. Labor Force participation needs to increase. West Virginia is at the bottom again. Only 54% of our civilian , non-institutionalized population is in the work force. Compare that to the USA at 63%.
Compare that to the Minnesota at 70%.

How do we get our students into the work force? Already our community has spoken urging us to build a new Career Technical Education High School. We are in the midst of a ten year plan. Our goal can be to go from 54% to 70% or why not a new high of 75% of our 16 and older workers gainfully employed. Thank God for our “Create Buckhannon” spirit ! We can make job creation more friendly.

3. The Opioid Epidemic must be over-come. Our West Virginia State Population is going down as 50 in a 100,000 die here compared to 5 in a 100,000 dying in USA. Tragically these deaths are in our citizens in the work force age. Our brightest and best are not only exciting the state to seek work but they are exciting Life!



Greenbrier David Ralph Almond, M.D., is a member of the Upshur County Board of Education. He is a graduate of West Virginia Wesleyan College and the West Virginia University School of Medicine. Among other professional honors and accomplishments, he is a Diplomat of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.

Editor’s Note: Power Point Slides Deskins used in his presentation can be accessed here.