Vacancies create concern for W.Va. Department of Commerce

MORGANTOWN — Gov. Jim Justice knows he needs a new commerce secretary, but he really needs even more than that.
A list of postings for current top openings at the commerce department would look like this: Secretary of commerce, deputy secretary of commerce, executive director of the development office, director of the Small Business Development Center and director for Community Advancement and Development.
It’s a lot of openings in leadership for the agency tasked with growing West Virginia’s economy.
“They’ve got a lot of holes to fill,” said Keith Burdette, who was secretary of commerce during the Tomblin administration. “There’s a reason those positions exist. It knits it all together to create a team to get the job done.”
Help wanted
The vacancies have been lingering, but attention around them picked up over the past week.
A story for Ogden newspapers focused on the continued role of Clayton Burch as interim secretary of commerce. Burch’s background is in the Department of Education, and he was never meant to be a long-term fill-in for commerce.
Burch has a reputation as a capable manager, but he has not been out front as the face of commerce. “No sir, the truth is I haven’t met him,”
Sen. Ed Gaunch, R-Kanawha, said of Burch.
That led to questions of Justice, who acknowledged during a press conference and then on MetroNews’ “Talkline” that the search for a new secretary of commerce has been a challenge.
“We’re probably not near as close as I’d like to be,” Justice told “Talkline” host Hoppy Kercheval.
“To tell you the truth, if you’d be interested, I’d surely love to sit down and talk with you about it. But if you’re not, if you could send me a couple of names of people that are out there in your listening audience today, I’m looking for a really good person.”
West Virginia has been without a secretary for the Department of Commerce since the forced resignation of Woody Thrasher June 14. The agency also has been without the other top lieutenants, too.
Development Office executive director Kris Hopkins left of his own accord. Josh Jarrell, deputy secretary for commerce, was pushed out prior to Thrasher’s departure. Erika Bailey, director of the West Virginia Small Business Development Center, left Aug. 8. She said she was leaving on good terms.

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