THE FUTURE OF SUNNY CAL - Star Gazing The Next Twenty-Five: Part II

(01/28/2001)

By Bob Weaver (Part two)

The economy will be driven by external jobs 50-75 miles from the county, and high energy prices will become insult to injury where workers must drive long distances. The welfare-to-work program will fail locally- no jobs. Despite Calhoun exporting its treasured natural gas to America for a century, many will be unable to pay their natural gas bills. The "welfare" worker will be forced to move to urban areas. Infrastructure, unless there is a definitive government program toward rural development, will be lacking spurring economic development. Calhoun will continue to become a bedroom and retirement community.

The promise of high-tech infrastructure ("Location of computer technology jobs works just a well in rural areas.") will lag behind the rest of America, not unlike access roads. If the feds decide to seriously focus on underdeveloped areas like Appalachia, the construction of the L-K Parkway is not likely in the next twenty-five years, although sections of Route 5 and Route 16 could be straightened and widened.

The competition for local job opportunities will remain severe. Nearly half of West Virginia's counties are still sliding and are near the statistical basement in income. West Virginia government continues to deny the critical nature of the problem. However, it is likely Calhoun could get lucky with a few small job producing businesses locating in the area. New oil and gas development will improve the tax base and provide some temporary local jobs and locally produced "home craft" businesses will proliferate. There will be some efforts on using local timber to build furniture, which could create some jobs.

The collision course of health care in America, costs continuing to rise 15% in non inflation years, will cause local services to be less available. The un-insured, with its cost shifting mechanism, will be a major problem causing rural health services to become triage outposts. Calhoun's severely aging population will be a challenge to the delivery of services. Rural America will have to fight to maintain local services.

The national health system, driven by insurance companies which deny (manage) care, could collapse and be replaced after continued public outrage. Individuals, companies and small businesses will no longer be able to help pay insurance premiums creating 60 million people without coverage (currently 45 million). The basic issue: Is health care a right or a privilege? One-third of Calhoun's children are living in poverty and the county continues to have among the highest unemployment figures (un-insured) in America. Without intervention, they will have limited access to broad based health care.

A private, independent study of West Virginia's economic picture funded by the West Virginia Community and Economic Development Council says the state's economic structure is not improving, despite political claims. West Virginia is deeply rooted in an old economic structure which makes it difficult to attract quality economic development from prosperous neighboring states. Government has focused on "protecting" the energy industries that are expendable and fading. Government taxation and regulations discourage private enterprise.

The privately funded study showed not one county had a per capita income above the national average, but the gap is widening, particularly in 26 of the counties. The new study also looked at old studies going back 30 years. "There are a lots of people with limited expectations," said Mac Holladay, president of Market Street Services. When it comes to change, West Virginians are their own worst enemy, particularly in holding their state government accountable.

Holladay said "The proof will be if the prescriptions are acted upon by the West Virginia Legislature and the Charleston administration. Unless there is action taken from it (private study), it will be just another document sitting on the shelf." The government bureaucrats have often been unable to go beyond their own jobs and maintaining political control. Government control has been maintained by low voter turnout and politicians handing out cookies and making pipe dream promises. While this is generally true of government, in West Virginia the movement away from this "old system" is slow and stagnating.

Other quality of life issues will still attract people from urban areas to country life in Calhoun County. Those of us still holding close to the sod will treasure the hills of our origin - a sense of place. A cultural diversity will bring more people together to form community and maintain rural lifestyles. The skills, talents, knowledge and concerns of people living in Calhoun will continue to improve. The community will become more assertive in protecting the lifestyle and Sunny Cal, despite its economic situation, will continue to be a desirous place to live - "almost heaven," if you can make a living. - Bob Weaver, Editor of The Hur Herald 2001


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