Ron Gregory: Economic news too often a mix of good, bad

December 15, 2018

It’s difficult to be West Virginia’s economic cheerleader. For every morsel of good news that comes down the pike, there has always seemed a truckload of bad.

If a governor announces the opening of a warehouse with 75 jobs, a coal mine lays off 300 workers. It’s been that way for decades. Check southern West Virginia population figures. Williamson USED to be a real city. So did Logan and Bluefield.

This is no attack on those towns. They still retain scenic beauty and are friendly and sociable.

What they don’t have are jobs. Without good-paying jobs, the people leave.

No, this is not a Sen. Richard Ojeda for President of the U.S. commercial. Let me assure you that if just talking about a problem would solve it, I’d be all for the Logan senator.

But there is a slightly different view of the Mountain State economy since Gov. Jim Justice’s arrival. New jobs do occasionally come without accompanying layoffs.

Still, it’s the indication that nobody’s running this railroad that’s a real problem. When the federal government has tons of money for flood relief and they can’t figure out how to spend it, that’s a problem.

When commerce commissioners come and go with billion dollar Chinese deals evaporating, that’s a problem.

But, as I said, there are signs of economic life. When Kroger closed its decades-old Smithers store, it cited lack of sales.

But Grant’s Supermarket moved in within a month and is already doing brisk business. We all know most vacant storefronts in West Virginia remain that way: closed.

This is the 17th store in the Grant’s chain. They serve southern West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina.

Even with small victories, the Justice administration has a major league credibility problem.

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When now-former State Sen. Ed Gaunch of Kanawha was asked about his re-election chances when he filed in January, he was pretty complacent. He explained that if he lost, he had a “tidy” little life to return to.

Well, he lost to Democrat Richard Lindsay.

So, the “tidy” locale turns out to be the statehouse, although I’m sure Gaunch didn’t have that in mind at the time. He’s now commerce commissioner.

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Some statewide Republicans are complaining that the party state committee did not do enough to support state candidates in November.

Many complained even during the election cycle that Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s U.S. Senate campaign was the only one drawing attention from the state party elders.

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Justice John Hutchison. Not bragging, but my impeccable source was the first to tell us he’d be appointed to the Supreme Court.

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Beware of your enemies. Pay closer attention to your friends.

An Arkansas group may have cost Jefferson County Republican Delegate Jill Upson her job, but she, like Gaunch, landed on her feet.

A commercial against Upson’s opponent used “coarse” language and was billed racist by the NAACP. Upson said she had nothing to do with the ad and asked for it to be removed as soon as she heard it.

She lost but Justice appointed her head of the Office of Minority Affairs.

She is a quality person, didn’t deserve the criticism and will do a great job.

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Sen. Ojeda is not the only of the legislative “superstar” class who lost in November. None of the rest have yet announced runs for president, though.

Ryan Ferns, labeled a “rising star” by some, decided to run for re-election to the State Senate. Democrat William Ihlenfeld beat him. Now, there’s no easy path for Ferns back to the Senate. He’d have to live in the area and beat the district’s other Republican, Ryan Weld, in a primary. That’s not a likely path.

There are other, less provocative, races where Democrats think they might win back a Senate majority. Republicans, however, will target local Democrat Bob Plymale of Wayne, for one. Ojeda’s seat is all but lost in Logan County, where he just lost for Congress by 2,500 votes and is running for president. GOP Delegate Rupie Phillips has said he will run against Ojeda and would be a prohibitive favorite to win.

Democrat Glenn Jeffries of Putnam County will try valiantly to hold his seat, but it’s a Republican district.

Democrat Roman Prezioso of Marion County will be a GOP target. And, as usual, Republicans will try to take down moderate Corey Palumbo in Kanawha County.

Contact Ron Gregory at 304-533-5185 or ronjgregory@gmail.com.

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