As a business owner with offices in multiple towns and states, I have seen what various communities have done to both succeed and to fail. I have seen communities that are shadows of their former selves and I have also seen resurrections of areas that were once written off completely.
If we’re going to grow our state, we need to do it from within. We need to encourage entrepreneurship. We need to encourage growth. We need to encourage expanding businesses.
We cannot do any of this without a solid, well-educated population. Not just to educate a workforce, but to provide the intellectual tools and skills to create new businesses and investment opportunities to grow our entire economy.
Frankly, there are parts of the state that are less likely to grow than others.
But Upshur County isn’t one of them. New businesses have opened on Main Street in Buckhannon. Buildings are under construction around the county. And it’s not just energy-related growth that has occurred. With solid investments by large manufacturers, expansions in healthcare and a number of small businesses, our entire community is seeing steady, continuous growth.
And in part, the residents of this county have themselves to thank for this. Twenty years ago, Upshur County decided to wisely invest in itself. We passed an excess levy for our schools that pays for almost 10% of the current budget. And while it’s among the lowest in the state, there are a number of counties that never passed one and they have suffered from it for decades now.
It has been fiscally prudent to invest in our schools and therefore our students. The more they succeed, the more they grow our local economy and benefit everyone who lives here. Over the last twenty years, our students have become business owners. They have become employers. They have become homeowners. And they are now becoming community leaders.
The levy covers school supplies that teachers, still among the lowest paid in the United States, previously purchased out of their own pockets. The levy that pays for text books, for libraries, for facility maintenance and for school safety also covers senior citizens and veterans who attend school-based community events.
Communities that invest in themselves reap the rewards of that investment. Like any company, pension or home purchase – our educational system will only produce from what we put into it.
And our schools are not just for our future. They are necessary for our present as well. Today’s employees want to work where they can raise their own children in good classrooms. To keep our best and brightest here, we must give them a reason to stay and hope for the future – and every part of that formula includes a solid school system.
When I travel to other areas, people ask me – “How are all of these good things happening in Buckhannon?” I tell them it is because everyone is working together to make a better community. I tell them that the people of Buckhannon and Upshur County realize it is up to them to make a difference. And I tell them that I am proud to call Buckhannon home.
But it can all change. Buckhannon can go backwards. It can become a place that is dying instead of thriving, one that is retreating instead of progressing and one that sees businesses closing instead of entrepreneurship rising. All that takes is to stop supporting our education system. That is why we must not only continue the levy (which will not in any way raise taxes), but also support our schools, our teachers and our administrators. In doing so, we will be supporting our kids and our future.
Curtis Wilkerson is the owner of Orion Strategies, a public relations firm with offices in Buckhannon, Charleston, Martinsburg, Pittsburgh and Columbus.