Brad D. Smith’s Perspective on Economic Developments in West Virginia

This year has already been an exciting one for economic development in West Virginia. In early January 2022, West Virginia Governor Jim Justice announced three pieces of significant economic news, marking what could be a turning point for the state’s economy and narrative.

During this time, it was announced that Nucor Corporation, an industry leader in steel production, had selected Mason County, West Virginia, as the location for a new, state-of-the-art sheet steel mill. Similarly, GreenPower Motor Company Inc. announced its plans to manufacture zero-emission, all-electric school buses in South Charleston, West Virginia. And finally, it was shared that the partnership between West Virginia University Health System, which operates under the brand name WVU Medicine, and Owens & Minor, Inc. would be expanding. So — why now?

Brad D. Smith, who has been actively working to uplift the Mountain State through the nonprofit organization Wing 2 Wing Foundation, has described what we’re currently witnessing in the state as a “strategic intersection.” He has explained how trends, such as the rise in entrepreneurism, remote work being a viable option and “rural as the new urban” are intersecting with the durable assets of West Virginia to create a favorable economic environment.

In other words, the welcoming communities of West Virginia, the talented individuals who fill them and the outdoor recreation the state is known for are all positioning the Mountain State as the optimal location for organizations and individuals alike to relocate and flourish.

The DNA of Grit 

When speaking about economic developments, Brad has been known to reference West Virginia’s exciting history as trailblazers and how, in a way, West Virginians were the original entrepreneurs. He believes recent prosperity rings true to the state’s origins.

As Brad has said, “We had to blaze trails instead of follow paths. We’ve got the DNA of grit.” 

He also believes that people have been taking note of the educational opportunities available in the state. He has specifically referenced growing opportunities for cyberdata, forensics, healthcare, advanced manufacturing and advanced energy.

“We were coal miners and now we’re hydrogen miners,” Brad has said when explaining how the roots and history of West Virginia are proving to be especially relevant to present and evolving needs. For example, in the case of Nucor Corporation, steel plants are transforming into green steel plants.

Brad has also observed that companies are discovering the talent available in West Virginia — tapping into the history and character of West Virginia while helping it to become all that it can be. He has also mentioned that there is an unparalleled alignment of interests among elected officials driving the state forward.

Planning for the Future 

When looking to the future, Brad has discussed the importance of investing in the infrastructure of the state to ensure continued economic growth — a lesson he learned in the early days of Ascend West Virginia, a program established through the Wing 2 Wing Foundation that encourages individuals to relocate to West Virginia. Brad has recollected how some of the first thoughts on applicants’ minds were ensuring there was a good education system, healthcare and broadband.

In many ways, West Virginia holds the key to a slew of scientific advancements; hydrogen companies are currently interested in West Virginia due to the fact that hydrogen is fueled by graphene, a product derived from coal.This type of innovation is driving a changing narrative for West Virginia, rather than being tied to its former negative connotations, the substance can begin to be known for its ability to serve in a future-forward capacity. These are the kind of capabilities that organizations and leaders are looking for.

Owning the West Virginia Story 

As the President of Marshall University and Co-founder of the Wing 2 Wing Foundation, Brad has been working to bring to light the inspiring history and potential-filled present that belongs to the state and its people.

He loves to touch on the ingenuity of West Virginia’s early settlers, explaining that when they weren’t able to access supply chains, they got creative. One example Brad has brought up is the push broom, which was an invention of necessity in West Virginia.

Brad believes that, historically, West Virginians have not always held the pen to their own narrative. He also believes that the tides are changing and the state is starting to shape its own story. As West Virginia continues to serve as the backdrop to economic development and scientific advances, the state is getting a seat at the table.

A strong start to 2022 means only more positive news for the West Virginia story this year.