Special to HNN Provided by Marshall University
President Gilbert announces alliance of higher education institutions to aid economic development in southern West Virginia

Marshall University President Jerome A. Gilbert said this morning that southern West Virginia’s higher education institutions have joined for a major effort to help attract businesses to West Virginia and create jobs.

He announced the formation of the Alliance for the Economic Development of Southern West Virginia at the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce’s 81st Annual Meeting & Business Summit at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs. Led by Marshall, the Alliance is made up of nine two- and four-year higher education institutions and is focused on marketing the region to prospective businesses.

Members institutions include Bluefield State College, Bluefield; BridgeValley Community and Technical College, South Charleston; Concord University, Athens; Marshall University, Huntington; Mountwest Community and Technical College, Huntington; New River Community and Technical College, Beaver; Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College, Mount Gay; West Virginia University Institute of Technology, Beckley; and West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine, Lewisburg.

“One of my top priorities as president is economic development and community revitalization in southern West Virginia,” said Gilbert. “That region is the hardest hit by the downturn in the coal industry and is right in Marshall’s backyard. These people are our neighbors and these communities are our communities. Higher education institutions have many resources that can be leveraged to create opportunities that will help attract businesses to our region and then assist those businesses once they are here.”

He said the presidents of the institutions in the Alliance met recently in Charleston to discuss specific ways they can assist the efforts of West Virginia Secretary of Commerce Woody Thrasher and the West Virginia Department of Commerce.

“We are now working to put together a comprehensive inventory of our institutional and community assets to help us develop pitches to companies that may want to locate or expand here,” he added. “It will be a very powerful portfolio. We are committed in the strongest possible terms to linking our considerable resources with the State’s efforts to diversify and grow southern West Virginia’s economy—to be more actively involved in economic development.”

According to Gilbert, the Alliance will be consulting with Dr. Malcolm Portera, former chancellor of the University of Alabama system. Portera is an expert in connecting higher education with community resources to expand economic activity. He was key in attracting more than $15 billion in industrial development to the southeastern United States, including manufacturing plants for Mercedes Benz, Hyundai, Nissan, JVC and Yokohama Tire.

“Mack has been unbelievably successful doing just what we need to do and we look forward to working with him to get our initiatives off the ground this fall,” said Gilbert. “West Virginia is at a crossroads and there is no time to waste.”

He emphasized that formation of the Alliance complements the West Virginia Forward initiative, a collaboration among West Virginia University, the West Virginia Department of Commerce and Marshall to identify short-term, larger-scale projects that will boost West Virginia’s economic development efforts.

He added, “I am a firm believer that higher education should remove obstacles and present opportunities. West Virginia Forward is a perfect example of that. We’re excited about the collaboration with WVU and the Department of Commerce, and about the opportunity to bring university and state resources to the table to attract manufacturing, small businesses and high-tech industry to our state.”

In his presentation, Gilbert also addressed what he called “the elephant in the room”—the opioid epidemic ravaging communities across the southern part of the state.

Calling it “one of the greatest challenges we face in southern West Virginia,” he said tackling and defeating addiction is necessary to create the kind of workforce West Virginia needs to successfully attract industry.

Gilbert pointed out that Marshall last year created a Substance Abuse Coalition made up of more than 50 experts from across the university who have experience working on addiction issues. Working with local and state officials, the group is coordinating Marshall’s substance abuse prevention and treatment programs.

He said, “Southern West Virginia is the epicenter of the opioid epidemic and our medical providers have the knowledge and the experience needed to help solve the problem. Marshall University stands ready and willing to lend every resource at our disposal to assist our state and the nation in this fight.”

The full text of Gilbert’s presentation is available online at www.marshall.edu/president/speeches-and-writings.