It does not take much of a crystal ball to see that jobs will be a critical issue in 2012.

While the employment picture improved somewhat in 2011, both nationally and locally, the economic downturn has defined the past four years. Millions of Americans remain unemployed or under-employed, and as the election season moves into high gear, they will be looking for answers.

In his new book, “The War for Good Jobs,” Jim Clifton takes it a step further and argues that the quest for good jobs is becoming a defining issue worldwide.

The Gallup CEO says that polling around the world shows that 3 billion people are working or want to work, but with only 1.2 billion formal jobs available, the shortfall creates stress around the globe.

“The demands of leadership have changed,” Clifton writes. “The highest levels of leadership require mastery of a new task: job creation.”

But Clifton contends that job creation is often a more regional phenomenon that involves successful cities, universities and local leaders.

What needs to happen in our region of West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio to stimulate job growth?

In the short term, it makes sense to build on what we have. The energy industry has a great opportunity to grow with the Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling, but pursuing the spinoff businesses such as ethane cracker plants are just as important.

West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is right to make recruiting one of those billion dollar investments a top priority. His team is looking at aggressive incentives, rail service and other benefits that can make that happen.

The state also needs to continue the business tax reductions and business climate improvements that will help existing businesses grow.

Meanwhile, we need to prepare our work force for today’s jobs and the jobs of the future. Even in a recession, businesses in our region struggle to find applicants with the skills and work ethic they need. Our public schools and technical colleges need to make meeting the needs of the job market a top priority.

There may have been days gone by when we took good jobs for granted, but in 2012, jobs need to be the focus from Washington to Main Street.

— Herald-Dispatch,

Huntington, W.Va.