UNCERTAINTY: With Woody Thrasher Out, is the $73 Billion China Energy Deal Doomed?

By Connect Clarksburg Staff | July 23, 2018

West Virginia, where per capita income and gross domestic product still rank near the bottom of the country, is running its government economic development agency without its top three leaders.

Woody Thrasher

Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher was forced to resign this month, Development Office executive director Kris Hopkins left of his own accord and Josh Jarrell, the deputy secretary for Commerce, was pushed out prior to Thrasher’s departure.

Each was deeply involved with West Virginia’s potential investment deal with China Energy, as well as with potential investment in sectors such as the automotive industry or the timbering industry. 

That team had advocated for greater investment in site development for projects that pop up with sensitive timetables, as well as more money to market West Virginia for development.

Clayton Burch, who has been second in command at the state Department of Education, last week was named interim Commerce secretary. Gov. Jim Justice has said he would like to name a long-term secretary as soon as possible.

Hopkins’s old development director job has been posted, noting that the position oversees a budget of more than $400 million of state and federal funding for an agency that “leads the drive to recruit new businesses domestically and abroad, and to retain and expand industries in the state.”

Justice has said in news conferences that the names at the Commerce department matter less than his own name, relationships and efforts. He used West Virginia’s potential $73 billion deal with China Energy as an example.

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Gov. Jim Justice

“I can tell you just as simple as mud how it happened,” Justice said. “It happened through a friendship with myself and Donald Trump. Donald Trump realizes wholeheartedly that we have a terrible trade imbalance with China and he is on those people and on those people like stink on you-know what.”

He went on to say of the deal, “So how does West Virginia come into being? Do we really think it came into being because of our Commerce department? Of course it didn’t come into being because of that. It came into being because of the relationship between the two of us and the president trying to help his friend and trying to help what he loves, and he loves West Virginia.”

In recent weeks, the China deal has been muddied by tension over Trump’s tariffs.

Whether the team is in place to weather a storm like that is unclear.

CLICK HERE to read the rest of the story by Brad McElhinny from WV MetroNews.

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