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Ohio Valley unemployment rates down from last year

By CASEY JUNKINS

The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING, W.Va.  — Even as jobless rates are lower in all 10 Upper Ohio Valley counties compared to this time last year, Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott said officials need to keep their “feet on the gas” to attract more and better career opportunities for residents.

Elliott and Vice Mayor Chad Thalman also mentioned the potential multi-billion-dollar PTT Global Chemical America ethane cracker — which may be built along the Ohio River in Belmont County because of the ongoing Marcellus and Utica shale rush — as something that could allow Wheeling to become the “corporate headquarters for many of the resulting offshoot businesses.”

The city is already going to be home to The Health Plan’s headquarters soon, in the 1100 block of Main and Market streets, a development expected to bring about 400 jobs into downtown Wheeling. Moreover, multiple downtown buildings are seeing structural upgrades for the first time in decades, including the former Gerrero Music building on the west side of Main Street.

“I am regularly talking to developers and business owners, both local and regional, about opportunities to invest in Wheeling,” Elliott said. “It’s safe to say that outside interest in Wheeling has increased considerably during the past six to nine months. The word is getting out that Wheeling is a city on the rise. We just have to keep our feet on the gas.”

According to WorkForce West Virginia, Ohio County’s unemployment rate is now 4.8 percent. That is lower than both the state average of 5.1 percent and the county’s rate of 5.7 percent from this time last year.

“These numbers help confirm what a lot of people already feel is true — that there is opportunity in Wheeling,” Thalman said. “The city has been focusing on making Wheeling a place where people want to live and spend their money.”

Although Wheeling leaders are positioned to benefit from the possible ethane cracker, Belmont County would serve as the giant plant’s home. Commissioner Mark Thomas said although the county’s 6.2 percent unemployment rate is better than the 6.9 percent recorded at this time in 2016, there is still much to do.

Nearly four decades ago, Belmont County saw the Ohio Valley Mall become a main economic indicator. The transitional period at the mall this year saw longtime retailers Elder-Beerman and Kmart leave, while some new stores, including Marshalls, are soon to open.

“I recognize the challenges we have here, but I focus more on what the commissioners can do to help the private sector retain and create jobs,” Thomas said. “I believe there are many good things coming to Belmont County in the next year or so, and with that, it will reduce our unemployment rate.”

For several months, Ohio Department of Job and Family Services statistics showed Monroe County with the highest unemployment rate among the Buckeye State’s 88 counties, but that dubious distinction now belongs to Meigs County. Monroe County has never recovered from the closure of the former Ormet Corp. aluminum smelter in 2013, and the former Ormet rolling mill several years before that — but its 8.1-percent jobless figure is now surpassed by Meigs County’s 8.2 percent.

A mostly rural county, Harrison County’s unemployment rate is now 6.4 percent. Jefferson County, once a steelmaking powerhouse where leaders are working to transition the economy to one focused on health care and education, now shows a 7.5 percent jobless rate.

Also hit hard in recent years because of the downturn in the steel industry, Hancock County’s largest employer is now Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort. The county’s unemployment rate is now 6.1 percent.

Brooke County, featuring the Mountain State Carbon coke plant and the Wheeling-Nisshin Inc. facility, has an unemployment rate of 6.1 percent. In Marshall County, home to Murray Energy Corp. coal mines and the American Electric Power Mitchell Plant, 5.3 percent of those looking for work cannot find jobs.

Many Wetzel County residents once depended on the Ormet plant, while some are now working in the shale industry. The county’s unemployment rate is now 6.6 percent. To the south, Tyler County now sees 6.4 percent of its workforce unable to find jobs.

On the border of Indiana, Mercer County’s 3.4 percent unemployment rate is Ohio’s lowest. Southern West Virginia’s Mingo County now features the state’s highest jobless rate at 9.8 percent. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Jefferson County, the Mountain State’s easternmost, features the lowest unemployment rate at just 3.2 percent.

See more from The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register

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