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Gas-rich Wheeling area gained 1,000 jobs in 2013

WHEELING, W.Va. – Powered by ongoing expansion of the Marcellus and Utica shale natural gas industries, the Wheeling Metropolitan Statistical Area added more than 1,000 new jobs in 2013, West Virginia University officials researchers said.

In fact, leasing, drilling, fracking, pipelining and other shale-related work helped the three-county MSA – consisting of Ohio and Marshall counties in West Virginia and Belmont County in Ohio – grow its economy faster than all but three of the 381 MSAs throughout the nation last year.

“Economic output in Wheeling exploded in 2013 and the economy added more than 1,000 jobs, driven primarily by the boom in the region’s energy sector,” John Deskins, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at WVU, said Thursday during the Wheeling Economic Outlook Conference.

“We expect Wheeling’s economy to continue to build upon recent gains, posting close to 1 percent job growth annually in coming years,” he added.

However, Deskins said the increasing number of drillers and frackers in the northern half of the state will never make up for the loss of coal mining jobs in southern West Virginia. Deskins and research assistant Brian Lego said coal production in Ohio and Marshall counties actually grew in 2013, but said this is not a statewide trend.

Emphasizing southern West Virginia coal production continues to drop at the same time the northern mines yield more of the mineral, Deskins said this is not a good sign for job growth.

“Is it going to fill the void left by the loss of coal jobs ? The answer is no,” he said of whether natural gas jobs could replace coal jobs. “There will be a push and pull between natural gas and coal jobs.”

Further complicating the economic forecast, Deskins said, is the fact that West Virginia workers continue earning only about 80 percent of the national average.

“The average West Virginian earns $4 for $5 the average American earns,” he said.

Deskins also said some Mountain State residents are not even looking for jobs, which is yet another problem. He also said the population continues to decline.

Deskins said employment in Ohio and Marshall counties should continue to grow. From now until 2019, Marshall County should grow the number of jobs by nearly 1.8 percent each year. He expects Ohio County to see its job numbers expand by almost 0.9 percent annually over the same time, while Belmont County should grow at a similar rate.

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