As 1,246 employees of the former Mylan Inc. factory (now Viatris) in Morgantown prepare to join the ranks of out-of-work West Virginians, they can look back to the 1980s for the source of their discomfort.
That was the decade when corporate America decided its primary responsibility was to stockholders — the people who invest in a company for the purpose of getting a good return. The other stakeholders in a company’s success — its employees, the communities where the companies have factories, and others — are of secondary concern.
Mylan went from being a company based in West Virginia to one headquartered in Pittsburgh to one that is part of a company based in Europe. As the Morgantown location became a smaller part of the larger company’s operations, its role in its owner’s success became less important, and now it’s expendable.
Homegrown companies with their primary operations in their state of origin are more invested in their state’s success, and they are more invested in their employees. As West Virginia businesses have been rolled up into larger operations, their relative usefulness to their new owners diminish. It’s far easier to close a factory in a place you rarely visit than it is to shut one down in the city where you live.
Some West Virginia businesses have survived this trend of rolling up and shutting down. Banks come to mind in that regard. United, WesBanco and City National are West Virginia-based banks that have kept their corporate offices in the state while they have expanded and become influential regional companies.
If West Virginians want to stop this cycle when it comes to outsiders buying their businesses and transferring their jobs elsewhere, state residents will need to become the predators in the game of mergers and acquisitions instead of the prey.
It won’t be easy, but it will require change.
For one, West Virginians will need capital to create and grow businesses in the state. It takes money to make money, and one of the problems with being a state having a low per capita income is that not many of us have the assets to invest.
We also need a culture of entrepreneurship. A number of West Virginians would like to start a business, but they need help in forming sustainable business plans. Help is available; people need to know how to access it.
Lowering the barriers to entry is another concern. State government has made the process of obtaining a business license easier, but businesses face regulations, tax requirements and other hurdles. One of the biggest barriers to entry is infrastructure. The lack of high-speed internet and public sewer service in much of the state hold us back.
Unrealistic? Pie in the sky? Not really. However, these are generational questions that go beyond what one government official, one university president or one person in the private sector can do. It won’t be easy, but the alternative is another Mylan.