Teamwork: West Virginia Senate, House of Delegates work quickly on economic development projects
CHARLESTON — The legislative process is often compared to sausage-making, a messy process that pits party against party and sometimes members of the same party against each other. But lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have demonstrated this year they can work together and quickly to make major economic development projects happen.
Earlier this year, it was the Nucor project in Mason County. The North Carolina-based steel manufacturer revealed plans to build a new electric arc furnace and steel mill in Mason County. The project would create as many as 1,000 new construction jobs over two years, with 800 full-time jobs once the mill is completed, and result in a $2.7 billion investment.
But the project wouldn’t have been announced at the beginning of the 2022 legislative session had lawmakers not met in a two-day special session at the beginning of January to pass Senate Bill 1001, the West Virginia Industrial Advancement Act.
The act created a tax credit equal to 50% of the qualified manufacturing investment of a company. The projects that would qualify for the tax credit require a minimum investment of $2 billion in property for use as an industrial site and the hiring of at least 500 full-time jobs within the first 36 months of the tax year the incentive is offered. SB 1001 passed with near-unanimous support in both the Senate and the House.
The Legislature again met Monday for a one-day special session to pass Senate Bill 4001, creating the Certified Industrial Business Expansion Development Program. The bill created two 2,250-acre high-impact industrial business development districts. The districts are aimed at encouraging the location and construction of large-scale industrial and manufacturing plants when the facilities require access to renewable sources of electricity.
Two companies, owned by Berkshire Hathaway, are purchasing more than 2,000 acres at the former Century Aluminum site in Jackson County to build a modern titanium melt facility powered by solar energy. The companies call it a first-of-its-kind renewable energy microgrid-powered industrial site, representing an investment of $500 million.
Gov. Jim Justice issued his special session call last Saturday night, with lawmakers gaveling in Monday at noon and passing the bill by near-unanimous majorities by Monday afternoon. Justice signed the bill Tuesday morning surrounded by lawmakers, state economic development officials, and company representatives.
In an interview Thursday at the Capitol, Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, and House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, said they were proud of their ability to work with the Governor’s Office, the Department of Economic Development, members of the Republican majority and even members of the Democratic minority to quickly pass bipartisan legislation quickly to help land major economic development projects.
“West Virginia now is officially on the map for Fortune 500 companies, ” Blair said. “They are interested in West Virginia and coming in and putting investment right here. “This is just the tip of the iceberg of the future that is coming to the state of West Virginia. You’re going to see more and more.”
“It’s a testament to the good work that our folks over in the Department of Economic Development and the Department of Commerce have been able to do and the new tools that the Legislature and the (Governor’s Office) have given them over the course of the past eight years to be able to go market West Virginia to, frankly, an entire new suite of industries – an entire new economy that we weren’t competitive in just a few years ago,” Hanshaw said.
Blair and Hanshaw said making quick work on the economic development bills that landed Nucor and Berkshire Hathaway is sending positive signals to major companies, industries, and manufacturers that West Virginia is moving at the “speed of business.”
“We’re trying to run our government at the speed of business, not to speed of government,” Blair said. “If you want to be able to get more businesses to this state, like a Berkshire Hathaway, they have to recognize that we can move on a dime like that and make things happen. We just got done demonstrating that to them. You don’t think for a minute that that will not bring further investment? I assure you, it will.”
“We’re able to get it done quickly, and that distinguishes us from many other states,” Hanshaw said. “We’ve said to economic development prospects that have been here before that we can have you under construction in West Virginia before other states can have you even permitted for operation.”
It’s not just the ability to call lawmakers in on short notice and work quickly to pass bills. Legislation passed during the 60-day regular session of the Legislature between January and March. Lawmakers passed Senate Bill 5, which encourages the manufacturing of unmanned aerial vehicles in the state. Hanshaw said one company reached out to lawmakers in order to make tweaks to the bill after it passed the Senate.
“We all thought what the Senate was doing was the right thing. We were involved in that process,” Hanshaw said. “One of the major manufacturers of drones … came to see us immediately after the Senate passed the bill and said, ‘wait a minute, here’s some things you’ve got wrong. You’ve got to think about this.’ In less than a week, we had a new bill drafted. We had it out of the House back in the hands of the Senate, the Senate concurred in our action, and in less than a week’s time we were able to pass a bill.”
“Just so you know, the Senate’s pride is not hurt by making something better when it comes from the House,” Blair said.
Another bill from the 2022 session that is having a positive effect now is House Bill 4491, which created a carbon dioxide sequestration pilot program and set permitting requirements for future projects.
On Friday, Maryland-based Competitive Power Ventures announced it would build a $3 billion natural gas-fired power plant and carbon capture and sequestration project.
The company cited HB 4491 as a reason they were moving forward with the project. Hanshaw met with CPV officials after Thursday’s interview to explain the new economic development project.
Blair and Hanshaw said that the Legislature stands ready to help any business, whether new or long-established in the state, to help remove any hurdles that hamper their ability to grow in West Virginia.
“Every incumbent small business in West Virginia that has a particular challenge or a particular experience that could be made easier by state government ought to immediately pick up the phone or grab your laptop and email your elected delegates and senators and tell us what those things are,” Hanshaw said. “We like to be responsive to those things.