Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

December 28, 2013

Our list of 2014 wishes includes building on the good things already here

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — This is the time of year I get scared of those “lists” of the latest trends in society. Let’s consider that there are 168 hours in one week. We have five classes, one each day, during that week. That equals five hours, or just about four percent of the total time included in one week. The boys and girls in my (or anyone’s) classes are somewhere else about 96 percent of the time. Even the best instructor, coach, supervisor, etc., is going to have some difficulty being a tremendous influence in that limited period.

As we look forward to the coming year, let’s put together some wish lists for 2014 based on what would help Four Seasons Country the most. For instance, a cease-fire in the war on coal, so called, would be a good start. Aside from the obvious benefits, including the fact that about 90 percent of the energy in West Virginia comes from coal, the psychological boost for a healthy coal industry is enormous.

People simply have a little more spring in their steps when the coal cars are rolling down the line. It makes us feel a little better about ourselves. Coal is what made us and when we see that foundation is still holding strong, it just makes attitudes more positive in our local communities. On both sides of our state line(s), legislators must continue to provide positive information about the wages, benefits, and advantages of using coal.

Certainly, we have not been able to provide a substantial substitute for coal. Scare tactics are not often the best means to pursue but in this case, it is certainly worthwhile to consider. What would we do without it? Water and wind cannot come close to equaling the raw power provided by our coal. Nuclear energy is not a viable alternative. Industry, home, and small business all rely on coal. Perhaps 2014 will be the year that we see a breakthrough in the development of mining legislation and regulation that will help the producers and the workers continue to expand their services. Meanwhile, remember how important coal is each time the lights come on.

On the state borders featuring the Hatfield-McCoy Trail and the newer developments linking Tazewell County’s Spearhead Trail to the all-terrain vehicle activities, another list would include continuing growth for the recreational opportunities. That translates to money, of course. Investment for related infrastructure including lodging and local business outlets will be essential. Riders not only need rooms but equipment and maintenance facilities throughout the area. Machines are surely going to break down and most motorists understand the value of road-side assistance.

Locally, another economic as well as psychological boost would be the re-start of work on the King Coal Highway. Southern West Virginia is still somewhat land-locked and being able to link up the region with a viable four-lane interstate system would be an outstanding, impactful move. As has been said often in the pages of the Daily Telegraph, this road began in large measure due to the vision of the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd, who tried hard and successfully to bring financial benefits to the local area. Now is the time to re-enlist in that effort. We must not continue to let the lofty highway to nowhere languish against the hill adjacent to Route 460 near the city limits. 

Entertainment is another key to providing a good quality of life for our citizens. Here, the local communities have already taken the lead in organizing an action-packed calendar of event. Bramwell is an excellent example of a town not content to rest on its historical laurels but anxious to build on them and plan for the future. With Mayor Lou Stoker and local leaders like Betty Goins, among others, this Mercer County municipality is a shining light glowing with the results of hard work aimed at making life more fun for the citizens.

We certainly have festivals and events all over, from Princeton to Bluefield and into Cedar Bluff, Tazewell, and beyond. There are concerts, motorcycle rallies, and related activities. To be successful, the promotions always must have a large number of volunteers. Not everyone can get paid. We are truly blessed because a host of residents are willing to help without compensation. That is a key to our good work across the area, to be sure.

Finally, we return to the young people. Whether it is industry, arts or entertainment, we must do a better job of providing for them. Your children and grandchildren, and mine, must have reasons to want to stay here and raise their own families.

They want to buy their styles of clothing, have venues where their favorites entertainers can perform, and eat at their favorite restaurants. Focusing on quality school systems and health care providers is essential. We are no longer an island and when the young see better situations someplace else, they will continue to go there. Whether it be coal or another industry, then, we will be able to build new generations of families based on good employment.

For our 2014 list of area needs, a healthy job market must be our top priority unless we want our future generation to be someplace else 96 percent of the time.

Larry Hypes, a teacher at Tazewell High School, is a Daily Telegraph columnist.