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West Virginia Economic Development Conference

Prepared Remarks
September 19, 2016

In the early 19th century, a candle-making entrepreneur lost most of his capital in a robbery and decided to emigrate from England to Cincinnati, Ohio, for a fresh start. 

Around the same time, an Irish immigrant was starting his own soap-making business in Cincinnati. These two men might never have met, except for the fact that they ended up marrying sisters.

Their father-in-law, noting that both men’s businesses used the same raw materials, urged them to form a joint venture. 
It took William Procter and James Gamble some time to accept the idea, but they did. 

And thanks to that nagging father-in-law, we all enjoy the benefits of squeezably-soft toilet paper, April-fresh laundry and soap that floats.

Business has long known the power of partnership, from Procter and Gamble, to Hewlett and Packard, to Ben and Jerry. 

Differing skill sets and resources, applied to a common purpose, produce a result much stronger than the sum of individual parts.

Today, West Virginia is in a precarious situation, as we make the inevitable shift from a manufacturing-based economy to a knowledge-fueled one. 

The challenge is too big for any person, business, industry, university or government agency to overcome alone. 
That is why we have to work together. 

Quite simply, partnerships are the key to West Virginia’s success. And as this state’s flagship, land-grant institution, West Virginia University is working hard to connect with industry, government and other educators to power West Virginia’s future.

It is our University’s duty to transform knowledge and research into solutions—actions that will create positive change in our communities, schools and businesses.

Through the years, research universities have produced some of the greatest advances in society, including computing, the fundamentals of GPS, laser technology, the genomic revolution and nearly all breakthroughs in modern medicine.

At West Virginia University, we want to help West Virginians thrive by changing our state’s economy — forever. We know we have the power to nurture resiliency and reposition our state for broad-based prosperity.

West Virginia is and always will be an energy state, so one of our major priorities is pioneering energy solutions for the 21st century.

We launched the Marcellus Shale Energy and Environmental Laboratory—or M-SEEL— in partnership with Northeast Natural Energy, the National Energy Technology Laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy and the Ohio State University. It is the first-ever long-term, comprehensive field study of shale gas resources.

With the State Department’s Bureau of Energy Resources, we have also created the International Forum on Unconventional Gas Sustainability and the Environment—an unwieldy name that yields a wonderful acronym: INFUSE. 
Through INFUSE, we will share scientific, technical, policy and environmental lessons learned from our research with people around the world who want to develop natural gas, reduce environmental risks and promote sustainability.

In the growing bioenergy field, our faculty members are partnering with the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry on the most prestigious woody biomass advanced logistics project ever funded by the Department of Energy.

Our leadership in energy research was on display on our campus at the recent Mid-Atlantic Innovation Forum, which brought together stakeholders from state government, academia and industry—as well as U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz — to discuss solutions for accelerating discovery in this region.

Recently, our researchers received two awards from the U.S. Department of Energy’s highly competitive ARPA-E program, which funds only the best and most innovative ideas.

One went to researchers developing an intermediate-temperature fuel cell capable of converting natural gas into electricity or liquid fuel in a single step.

The other will support development of an engine with an electric generator that can produce electricity for the home of the future.

Receiving two of these prestigious awards puts our University among the global leaders in energy research.  

And the fact that they support two very different areas of energy research shows the breadth, as well as the depth, of our expertise.

Along with energy, national security is a major focus of our research—and a nucleus for partnerships that boost our economy. 

For many years, we have been collaborating with the FBI and its Criminal Justice Information Services in Clarksburg. That partnership has been a catalyst for economic growth in the region, for cutting-edge research in biometric technologies and for student educational and job opportunities.

Similarly, with a goal of providing smarter defense capabilities to the “boots on the ground,” our Center for Smart Defense is aligning innovations in academia and the commercial marketplace with defense needs. The Center will initiate research partnerships between our faculty, staff and students and outside organizations inside the Department of Defense and the broader national security community.  

Our University also helps to create a workforce with the skills businesses are looking for. 

For example, we are partnering with Boeing to offer online graduate degrees in five niche disciplines that match the company’s needs. The agreement waives the application fee for Boeing employees and honors in-state tuition rates for Boeing employees around the globe. 

Arrangements like this bring value to corporations by offering the expertise and knowledge that West Virginia University has in niche areas. In the field of hospitality and tourism—our state’s second-largest industry—we created West Virginia’s first hospitality and tourism bachelor’s degree program. 

Through partnerships with businesses, our students gain real-world experience in restaurant and hotel management. Our Corporate Relations Office, led by Cynthia Sweet, connects our world class researchers and resources with West Virginia businesses to help them reach their strategic goals. The new WVU Innovation Corporation is helping us increase the amount of contract-based testing and evaluation that we perform for industry and government agencies.   

This is one more example of how the University is leveraging its fundamental research capabilities in a very new way, building stronger relationships with industry and government. 

New College of Business and Economics Dean Javier Reyes has spent much time traveling the state and talking to business leaders about even more ways that our University can promote economic development. 

We also have been in discussions with McKinsey Consulting, through our Center for Big Ideas, on ways to spark an immediate reversal in West Virginia’s economy. 

We have cultivated a relationship with the Gallup organization, the premier polling organization in this country, if not the world. They have taken an intense interest in working with a few universities on projects impacting the future. Our project with Gallup will focus on how one reinvents a University to lead the reinvention of a state.

And, thanks to a major donation from a friend of the University, our Center for Big Ideas is gearing up to study how one restructures state government to make it effective, efficient and forward-thinking in this era of dynamic change.  

In addition to working with existing businesses, we are also jump-starting businesses of the future by nurturing West Virginia’s entrepreneurs.

We live in an era when ideas will be the catalysts of virtually all future economic progress, so supporting society’s innovators is more important than ever.

We are igniting their creativity and helping them commercialize knowledge, through such tools as:
  • The Launch Lab, our resource center for building businesses.
  • Our high school and college business plan competitions, which inspire young entrepreneurs.
  • Our new Women’s Business Center, funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration to help women start and grow entrepreneurial enterprises. 
Working directly with West Virginia’s communities is another way to nurture resiliency and reposition our state for broad-based prosperity.

We have all witnessed firsthand how changing job markets can trigger a cascade of economic and social problems — and those problems have strained our ability to connect people to jobs.

That is why our University is talking with community members who have lived through painful shifts. 

For example, Harper’s Ferry, a historic destination and a driver of tourism in West Virginia, suffered when a fire wiped out part of the town’s business district. I called their mayor, Greg Vaughn, and asked, "What do you need to help your town get back on its feet?" We sent some of our experts over to Harpers Ferry to meet with the residents and officials to formulate a response plan. Several of our colleges and departments, from Extension to Engineering, stepped in to provide support.

In towns such as Weirton, we are pairing University resources with front-line intelligence from residents to capitalize on economic trends.

We are also working with community leaders to help revitalize Charleston’s West Side.

We are empowering people to improve their own health and that of their communities by partnering with groups like Try This West Virginia and Sustainable Williamson.

And, in the University’s own backyard, we helped Morgantown earn accreditation by Safe Communities America. Ours is the first Safe Community that represents collaboration between a city, a county and a university.

Working together, universities, businesses and government can make West Virginia a model for people across this country—a model of the resilience, determination, and cooperation and a living and learning laboratory for successful partnerships among all sectors.

Partnering with public school educators is another top priority if we want to build a state workforce that can compete in the 21st century. 

We have entered the age where applying our brains for ideas and innovations overrides the backbreaking, blue-collar work of yesteryear. 

Ingenuity today is what pays the bills and puts food on the table. Therefore, we need to ingrain in our children a love of learning — and the knowledge that learning is a lifelong process.

At West Virginia University, we encourage reading through programs such as Extension’s Energy Express. In 2015 alone, this state-wide summer program for at-risk children helped them gain, on average, 2.8 months in broad reading achievement.

I often say that STEM—science, technology, engineering and mathematics — is our future.

In order to meet its workforce needs, the United States will need approximately 1 million more STEM professionals than are projected to graduate over the next decade.

Our University is training more secondary science and math teachers through our UTeach program. We are shepherding talented minority and underrepresented youth into health care careers through our Health Sciences & Technology Academy. And through a new alliance with 100Kin10, we have committed to doubling the number of math and science teachers we graduate by 2020.

We invite high school students into university-level study through the ACCESS WVU Early College Program. 

This fall, we added online courses to our highly successful mathematics and engineering portfolio. The result is the largest number of high school ACCESS students ever — representing 69 high schools in West Virginia and eight other states.

We are also increasing access to higher education in southern West Virginia by opening a campus in Beckley — where WVU Tech will soon relocate.

Preparing students for college is important, but once they arrive on campus, we must also make sure they acquire the skills needed to flourish in today’s global economy. 

For West Virginia University undergraduates, the route to 21st century success is Project 168. This path beckons before the students arrive and shows them how they can enrich every moment on campus with academics, personal and professional development, campus life, community service and global exploration. Students who participate in Project 168 will be goal-oriented — gaining skills, experiences and attitudes that promote career achievement. We created Project 168 because we knew it was time to look at undergraduate education in a new way.

Building a bright future for West Virginia will require all of us to envision new paradigms. Our most fearsome enemy is the phrase, “This is the way we do things in West Virginia.” 

Creating new paradigms means demolishing boundaries that bar the path to progress. For our University, that means quashing the notion of regional and institutional competition. We must grow the pie, not fight over its diminishing size. 

That is why, for example, we are partnering with others to solve the Mountain State’s health problems. 

West Virginia University and Marshall together have pledged $1.5 million to jump-start healthcare research and delivery projects across the state.

Education, health care and economic prosperity are the pillars of West Virginia’s future. 

Prosperity will remain elusive if our workforce lacks education and our citizens are suffering from disease and despair. Young people who are sick, or whose families languish in poverty, will struggle to fulfill their educational potential. A lack of knowledge or financial resources will keep some of our citizens mired in ill health.

Education, health care, and prosperity are inseparable. They are essential. And they are what West Virginia University is uniquely empowered to generate.

That is our land-grant mandate: To innovate. To invest. To improve people’s lives.

With you as our partners, the potential for success is unlimited. This summer, we all saw what happens when Mountaineers unite in common cause.

When floods ravaged southern West Virginia in June, everyone reached out to help, including our University’s students, faculty, staff, and alumni. 

They raised funds. They collected and delivered supplies to flood-stricken areas. They helped with cleanup. They provided vaccines and other medical assistance. 

And last month, the Pride of West Virginia Mountaineer Marching Band performed at the State Fair in Lewisburg—reminding us that raising spirits is as important as raising money.

That flooding victims are working hard to rebuild their lives is no surprise. I have often said that West Virginians are the most resilient people I have ever met. 

Resiliency is woven into the fabric of West Virginia, dating back to our state’s separation from the Old Dominion. In a dark time, we boldly chose an uncertain path forward and forged a new identity.

That spirit of daring persists in West Virginians.  At West Virginia University, daring helped our community reach the long-time goal of earning a “Research 1” classification. 

Daring helped our researchers break open the Volkswagen emissions scandal. 

Daring enabled a Mountaineer journalism graduate to expose human trafficking and earn a Pulitzer Prize. 

And daring made WVU Rifle Team member Ginny Thrasher the first American to strike gold at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

So, if we all work together — if we dare to believe in our shared strength — we will reinvent the future for 1.8 million West Virginians.

Now, I would be glad to hear your ideas and take your questions.