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By Lori Kersey
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia ranks low on the list of states with the most new businesses, patents per capita and high-tech manufacturing, according to one local economic development group.
But if the nonprofit group’s members have their way, that will change in the next couple of years.
“We want West Virginia to have [a higher] per capita entrepreneurial participation rate than any other state,” said Jeff James, co-chairman of the entrepreneurship committee Vision Shared. “That’s really only a couple years away. That’s a little crazy.
“We think if we understand the underpinnings of what it takes — the ingredients to make the entrepreneurial soup … we think we can pull off a revolution here.”
Just how to achieve that goal was the focus on a report Vision Shared commissioned from Marshall University’s Cal Kent, vice president of the school’s Center of Business and Economic Research. Kent presented the report Tuesday afternoon.
Entrepreneurship accounts for 99.1 percent of all businesses, 45 percent of private-sector payroll and 60 to 80 percent of all jobs in the United States, Kent said.
But West Virginia ranks near the bottom from new business formation, patents per capita and high-tech manufacturing, he said.
That’s due to an inadequately prepared work force, deficient infrastructure, poor health, geographic isolation and misguided government policies, he said.
“Many of our government policies were made during the Great Depression, and we haven’t changed them since,” he said.
To encourage entrepreneurship in West Virginia, Kent said, fostering a public understanding of its importance is crucial.
“We need to make sure West Virginia is a place where the value of entrepreneurship is recognized and valued,” he said.
Education and entrepreneurship, beginning in grade school and continuing through college, is also important, he said. Improving financing opportunities, taxation and regulation for the state’s business climate and improving the state’s infrastructure is also important to improving the entrepreneurship climate in West Virginia, he said.
To help achieve its goal, Vision Shared plans to host community events in different areas of the state, culminating with a Create West Virginia conference scheduled for this fall, said Thomas McChesney, co-chairman of the entrepreneurship committee. The group has yet to schedule the meetings, he said.
Vision Shared also wants to work with communities to create flex space where entrepreneurs can come together to work on their businesses — much like the DigiSo digital arts studio in Charleston where the presentation was held. They also want to find ways to offer financing to small businesses, McChesney said.
To make the plan work, Vision Shared is hoping to partner with individuals, schools systems, organizations and others, James said.
“This will not happen unless West Virginians get behind it,” James said.
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