Senate President Blair, House Speaker Hanshaw plan to showcase West Virginia during week-long event for officials from 15 states
WV Press Staff Report
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. – “We are the northernmost state in the Southern Legislative Conference (SLC), and we are excited to have all of those 2,000-plus people visit West Virginia next year. Many of them are in a position to influence tourism – they’re in a position to influence relocation or expansion of business and industry.”
That’s what W.Va. House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, told reporters after it was announced that the Council of State Governments Southern Office (GSC South) will be hosting the 2024 SLC at the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs.
Senate President Blair is already sending out messages to the other states.
“Come early, stay late,” said Blair of his messages to officials from other states. “When you come to visit West Virginia, bring your family and experience what our state has to offer.”
First established in 1947, the SLC is the nation’s “largest regional government forum.”
As explained on their website, the GSC South is a, “Nonprofit, nonpartisan member organization that serves the governments of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. With regionally-based leadership and perspective, and national-level resources, we provide Southern government officials and staff with a wide variety of programs and services that facilitate regional cooperation and encourage the exchange of information.”
The 2023 SLC featured presentations on topics such as education, economic development, cultural affairs, public safety, and energy and the environment.
“What you find is that the SLC brings about 2,000 elected legislators from the 15 Southeastern states to the conference, but it also brings hundreds and hundreds of other people who support them,” Hanshaw said. “For example, leaders in tourism from other states and other regions throughout the country. It brings a lot of site-selection consultants, and people who are involved in making decisions about where corporate America invests its capital in the 15 Southeastern states.”
“We are really happy to be able to spend a week showcasing portions of West Virginia to those people,” Hanshaw added.
Blair said it’s an important event for West Virginia. “The opportunities that will come from this will far exceed any resources we put into it.”
Blair said the fundraising goal is $3 million, which was South Carolina’s budget for the 2023 SLC event.
Speaking about the 2023 SLC, Blair talked about “West Virginia Night,” a preview event for 2024: “It was astounding. We had a hard time getting people to leave. People are excited about coming to West Virginia. That is exactly what we want. … We want people talking about how great everything was in the state of West Virginia. That has a positive impact when it comes to our economic development and our future in the state of West Virginia.
Hanshaw believes that Greenbrier County is an appropriate setting for next year’s conference, noting that it is, “a region of West Virginia that’s ripe for tourism.”
“It’s (Greenbrier County) minutes away from our nation’s newest National Park at the New River Gorge, and it’s situated within a half-a-day’s drive from a lot of the best attractions that we have to offer as a state,” Hanshaw said. “We’re working with Chelsea Ruby (secretary, W.Va. Department of Tourism) and her team to put together a program that will entice people to do that.”
Blair said he is excited to show that things are getting better in West Virginia. “People are staying pride in themselves and this state again. When you do that, it brings that economic impact of people coming, spending and vacationing in your state.”
During the 2023 SLC – which was held this past July in Charleston, South Carolina – Senate President Blair was unanimously elected as chair of the GSC South Executive Committee, a position he will hold through the conclusion of 2024. As chair, Blair will be instrumental in developing the program for the 2024 conference, to be held in July.
“This meeting provides an opportunity to highlight West Virginia’s many successful policies and initiatives, and share these ideas with other Southern state policymakers,” Blair said at the time of the announcement. “Hosting the SLC at The Greenbrier will be an amazing opportunity to share West Virginia’s unique history and culture. Everyone will find a home here.”
Hanshaw, who attended his first SLC this year, said he “was remarkably impressed” by not only the size and scope of the event, but also its commitment to bipartisanship.
“Most of what we do as legislators is surprisingly not partisan,” Hanshaw explained. “The things that grab the headlines are the handful of very partisan things that the legislature takes up each year, but by-and-large, most of our job is the nuts and bolts of government.”
“It’s making sure that we’re paving roads, and building water lines, and funding schools – doing the things that people take for granted every day that their government will do,” Hanshaw continued. “Those things don’t normally jump up and grab a headline, and we’re not at all naive to that.”
“I like it when we stay out of the newspaper, because that means we’re just doing our job,” Hanshaw added.
Hanshaw also sees the conference as potentially providing a significant economic boost to the Greenbrier County-region, and beyond.
“The number of visitors that we will bring here – just during the week of the conference – will provide several-million dollars in economic impact to the State of West Virginia,” Hanshaw said. “The final numbers for the most recent event in Charleston (South Carolina) haven’t been fully compiled yet, but they’re expecting that number to be in the range of a $5-to-$6 million impact to the local economy.”
“That’s the immediate impact,” Hanshaw continued. “The long-term impact – we want people outside of West Virginia to understand that this is a place where they can come and consider as a viable destination for tourism, or for the location of their business expansion.”
“The more we can do to promote the State of West Virginia, the more we’ll see visitors, new residents, and investment into our state,” Hanshaw added.