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Eastern Panhandle outlook a contrast in W.Va.

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Manufacturing and construction jobs are expected to grow tremendously in the Eastern Panhandle over the next five years, according to John Deskins, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at West Virginia University.

“Manufacturing in the Eastern Panhandle is expected to grow by almost 5 percent, mostly because of the P&G plant,” he said Tuesday during the annual Eastern Panhandle Economic Outlook. “And construction also is mostly because of the P&G plant, by about 4.5 percent, as well as home construction. We expect home construction to pick up. Home construction is very important to the Eastern Panhandle.”

Procter and Gamble announced earlier this year that the Cincinnati, Ohio, based company plans to build a large manufacturing facility in the Tabler Station industrial park in Berkeley County.

According to reports, it is expected to employ about 700 workers at first and will probably increase that number as its operations expand. Also, construction of the plant is expected to employ about 1,000 workers over the two years it will take to build the 1 million-square-foot plant.

That is not the only good news for the Eastern Panhandle, which Deskins defines as Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties.

“In every job sector, growth is expected to be double the growth of West Virginia, except the leisure and hospitality, and professional and business services sectors,” he said.

Through 2020, employment in West Virginia is projected to increase by a little less than one-half of 1 percent.

In Berkeley County, job growth is projected to be about 1.2 percent; Jefferson County, about 0.75 percent; and Morgan County, about 0.25 percent.

Job growth nationally is projected to be about 1.3 percent.

“Unemployment in the Eastern Panhandle is much better than West Virginia, far superior than to the rest of West Virginia, and on a par with the country,” Deskins said.

The unemployment rate in the Eastern Panhandle is expected to be about 4 percent in 2020. It is a little more than 5 percent now.

For the state, the unemployment rate is expected to be about 6 percent in 2020. Now, it is about 7 percent.

Per capita personal income in the Eastern Panhandle does not compare as well with the rest of the state and the nation.

“But you should take that with a grain of salt,” Deskins said, because the PCPI is based on the total population of the counties and region, and the Eastern Panhandle has a younger population than the rest of the state, which means fewer residents are in the workforce.

The PCPI for the United States in 2014 was about $45,250. For West Virginia, it was about $35,500.

Berkeley County’s PCPI was about $30,500; Jefferson County’s, about $40,000; and Morgan County’s, about $35,000.

The one area in which the Eastern Panhandle outstrips the rest of the state is population growth.

“West Virginia is expected to lose 1,000 people per year for the next 20 years,” Deskins said. “The Eastern Panhandle has added about 60,000 residents since 1994. The other 52 counties have lost about 54,000. And the population of the Eastern Panhandle is significantly younger and more educated than the rest of the state, which is important in driving long-term economic development potential.”

By 2020, the combined population of Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties is expected to be nearly 200,000.

Overall, the Eastern Panhandle’s economic outlook for the next five years is bright, Deskins said, especially compared to most of the rest of the state and on a par with the nation.

– Staff writer John McVey can be reached at 304-263-3381, ext. 128, or twitter.com/jmcveyJN.

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