Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Farewell 2013. Welcome 2014! It’s a new dawn for the coalfields of southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia.
A new year is an opportunity for new beginnings, and renewed hope for the future. Of course many challenges remain. Some of our own making, and others brought on by an administration in Washington that remains hostile toward coal. But most are still optimistic about the future. And we should be. Good things are happening. And the region does in fact appear to be on the verge of something really good happening.
We already saw a lot of positive progress in 2013, including small business growth across the region. And bigger projects have come to fruition — like the new $3.9 million Bluefield Area Transit center off of Interstate 77 exit one near Bluefield. The Hatfield-McCoy Trail continues to experience growth, and Princeton is now home to a new strip mall. Plans for the region’s first dental school are on a fast track in Tazewell County, and volunteers in Bluefield and Princeton are hard at work revitalizing their respective downtowns.
But there is still much work to be done. And certainly there is much we can accomplish if we work together. A few priorities for 2014 immediately come to mind.
• Jobs. Although we were able to stem a troubling tide of jobs losses in 2013, there is still a dearth of manufacturing, high-tech and other good-paying jobs that are needed to keep our graduates close to home. Fighting for new jobs — and new economic development and tourism opportunities for the region — should be viewed as a top priority for all locally elected officials. And this fight must begin on the local level — from local county commissioners and development authority officials — and then continue with assistance from state and federal lawmakers. No stone should be left unturned in the search for new jobs, as well as the ever-shrinking pool of state and federal grant funds.
• Highway construction. Work on the King Coal Highway in Mercer County, and the Coalfields Expressway in McDowell County, remains stalled. And that’s not acceptable. We must let our lawmakers in Charleston and Washington know how important these future four-lane corridors are to our region. We must continue to fight for any and all transportation funding pools, such as the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants that were awarded in 2013. And we must pursue creative coal synergy solutions with private partners. The coal synergy plan has worked for Southwest Virginia, and it can work for southern West Virginia. By mining coal, we can also create roadbeds at a substantial savings to the states.
• Winning the war on drugs. Law enforcement officers were aggressive in 2013 when it came to fighting the region’s drug epidemic, as well as locating and removing potentially hazardous meth labs. The two-year-old Bluefield Pill Initiative campaign also continues to make a big difference. But the fight — and the aggressive response to the region’s rampant drug problem— must continue. If we don’t act now, we risk losing an entire generation to the scourge of prescription drug abuse.
• Protecting our children. Once again law enforcement officers were aggressive in 2013 when it came to locating and arresting those individuals charged with sexually abusing children. But we can’t rest until everyone who is guilty of sexual abuse or exploiting a child is brought to justice.
Today is an opportunity for a new beginning. A chance to better our neighborhoods, communities, state and nation. We all should take steps today to help build a better tomorrow. But we need to get to work now. And what better time to accomplish this than at the beginning of a new year.