Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Letters to the Editor

October 30, 2012

Region needs to diversify economy

That Norfork-Southern is laying off 200 railroad workers on the heels of 150 mining jobs lost due to closings hurts, but really shouldn’t be surprising. As a grade-school kid in the 1940s, I earned money (among many other ways) shoveling coal in people’s homes. Most homes, and virtually all commercial buildings, were heated by coal furnaces.

Coal was delivered by truck, and usually shoveled down a chute into a section of basement reserved as a coal bin. In most cases a giant screw from the furnace extended into the coal bin to pull coal into the furnace, but after some time there would be no coal left over the screw (which was called a worm), and smoke from the furnace would seep back out into the bin and from there to the rest of the house. Seeing smoke meant it was time for someone to climb into the bin and shovel coal away from the walls and into a mound over the worm. Since removal of coal dust from the body and clothing is a problem, paying a kid to shovel and letting his mother worry about the problem was “optimal.” My mom probably did more to earn my money that I did, but as a kid I didn’t think about that.

By the time I graduated from high school, coal was too expensive to use as a heating fuel. Mines were mechanizing, the retail sector was contracting, and there were very few jobs for graduates. Coal is a basic industry, and the general rule is that five other jobs exist to support a basic industry job. The NS Pocahontas division services the coalfields, but in terms of local economy could well be considered in the category of a basic industry, so the loss of these 350 jobs means the eventual loss of over a thousand others. There is no getting around that fact, we have to deal with it. How? Of course fighting for coal.

 We need to keep that horse alive as long as possible, but it is never going to be able to do what it once did. We’ve got to find another horse. Natural gas looks to be a great option for the state, and with production would bring related industries. Anything close by wouldn’t hurt us. Tourism and recreation is another field that is really shaping up for the state. Hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, rock climbing, zip-lining, white-water rafting, ATV trails, etc., all bring in dollars that boost the economy and provide jobs. Whoever came up with bridge day deserves a medal.

Bluefield already is by default a retirement city, but it could do better. There is nothing wrong with retirement income (ask Florida). People nearing retirement look for low cost of living, good climate, pleasant environment and inexpensive things to do. They probably are not going to choose New York City. They might choose this area, if they knew about it. But we would need to get the word out. Doubtless there are other opportunities, but the point is that the horse we’ve got is not going to pull the plow for the rest of our lives, and we need to be looking for another.

Joe Hall


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