By LINDA HARRIS
The State Journal
WEIRTON, W.Va. — A continued drop in unemployment rates in West Virginia’s Northern Panhandle is good news for the region, officials say.
Brian Lego, Research Assistant Professor with the Bureau of Business & Economic Research at WVU, said things have “tangibly improved” in the Mountain State’s five northernmost counties.
“In general, things have been better there, by comparison, just because of how things have fared with the gas industry over the past year,” Lego said. “It’s gotten better within the industry — not quite like 2012-2014, when gas companies were hiring, expanding and doing additional exploration (before prices dropped and the industry slowed to a crawl). More rigs are coming online now, more production is coming online and more assets are being added in the midline.”
Unemployment in three Northern Panhandle counties is below the state average — Hancock County, at 4.9 percent; Marshall County, 4.8 percent; and Ohio County, 4.1 percent. It’s at 5.3 percent in Brooke and Tyler counties, and 5.5 percent in Wetzel. In all five counties unemployment has tumbled from September 2016 numbers.
Some workers who dropped out of the job-seeking market when the economy was at its worst may re-enter, he adds, and that may cause “a bit of a jump.”
“But that shouldn’t be viewed as a bad things, it just means people are more confident (about finding a job)…when the economy gets good enough for job growth and for businesses to hire, you see people coming back off the sidelines.”
Pat Ford, executive director of the Business Development Corporation of the Northern Panhandle, said
the region has turned an economic corner.
“If hirings are up, if employment opportunities are up, if payroll numbers are up and business openings are up … if all of those indicators are movin forward, I have to believe the reason our unemployment numbers are going down is because we have employment opportunities and a labor force that’s willing to work,” Ford said. “Business and industry prospects looking to locate a new facility or expand into a new market would not be making the financial investments they’re making in Brooke and Hancock counties if we didn’t have the labor force to support their investments.”
Lego, meanwhile, said he think’s West Virginia’s economy has turned a corner, though the recovery isn’t as robust in southern West Virginia’s coal communities” hard-hit by tightened environmental regulations during the Obama administration. The coal industry “can’t get much worse in terms of how far down it can go, the industry is a lot smaller than it was,” he said.
But, while things are getting better, he said the state isn’t out of the woods.
“Getting to the levels of job growth we need for the state to recover, even back to where it was in the first quarter of 2012, (the recovery) would need to be much stronger than it is now,” he said. “At the rate we’re going, it will be 2020, 2021 before we get back to those levels.”
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