CLARKSBURG — North Central West Virginia will end 2018 with a stable, strong economy, and all signs point to continued financial prosperity over the next several years.
The nation as a whole experienced plenty of stock market volatility and several industries were thrown into uncertainty by President Donald Trump’s trade tariffs over the past 12 months. But the north central region of the state has remained largely insulated, said John Deskins, director of West Virginia University’s Bureau of Business and Economics.
“North Central West Virginia is more stable than the nation, it seems. Or, at least, the patterns of the last couple of decades have indicated we have greater stability,” he said. “The region’s economy is very resilient. Part of that depends on the fact that we have some really important federal employment in the region, we have the university in the region, and we have a lot of health care in the region. Those sectors of the economy tend to be really stable.”
Businesses in Monongalia, Marion, Harrison and Preston counties added more than 8,000 jobs between early-2010 and mid-2018, resulting in cumulative growth of more than 7 percent, according to the study.
In Harrison County, many of these jobs can be attributed to the rebounding natural gas production and new natural gas pipeline infrastructure under construction, Deskins said.
“That’s actually something that’s creating benefits in other counties in the state as well, not just the north central region,” he said. “But definitely the construction projects that have been going on have definitely helped employment and a whole host of economic measures here in North Central. There is lots of stuff going on with the pipeline construction. That’s in Harrison County and it’s affecting other parts of our region, as well.”
Other sources of major gains in Harrison County in recent years are due to the continued build-out of the Charles Pointe and White Oaks developments in Bridgeport, Deskins said.
“Those two developments are a really good example of why this region is doing so well,” he said. “Because you can go across a wide swath of West Virginia and not see stuff like that happening.”
Bridgeport’s United Hospital Center and the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services facility in Clarksburg have continued to provide the region with scores of reliable, skilled positions, Deskins said.
“Those are big employers that are associated with good, high-paying jobs to a large extent,” he said. “Those are also stable employers. Even if the national economy tanks, those two facilities are not going to suffer because those are really stable parts of the economy.”
The area has also experienced the benefits of several infrastructure improvement projects related to Gov. Jim Justice’s “Roads to Prosperity” initiative, Deskins said.
“It’s definitely created a boost,” he said. “That’s been more recent, that’s only been over the last six or eights months or so. That’s created benefits that will continue through next year. It’s a nice boost that we’re seeing in the short term just directly due to the construction employment. But of course, anything that we can do to help improve infrastructure will provide a more significant boost over the long run as a higher quality of life will make our region more attractive to potential businesses.”
Although the bulk of oil and gas production has shifted from Harrison County to others like Doddridge, Marshall and Ritchie counties, many oil and gas related companies have kept their regional operations headquartered in or around the Clarksburg area, Deskins said.
“A lot of the professional services that go along with the gas boom are located in this region,” he said. “Even when a lot of activities taking place happen elsewhere, that activity requires professional services as well. Those tend to located the north central region. The region is benefiting in a variety of ways from the gas boom. Not just from the direct gas jobs, but from the support jobs in professional services.”
Natural gas tends to get all the attention in North Central West Virginia, but the region still has some coal production as well, Deskins said.
“We don’t talk about coal a whole lot in this region because our region is so much more diversified,” he said. “We do produce some coal, for sure, in Mon County and in Harrison County, but it’s just a much smaller part our economy here.”
Although there are many positive things to say about the current state of West Virginia’s economy, any assessment of the state needs to be kept in perspective, Deskins said.
“We’re not booming compared to the nation,” he said. “The growth that we see is not out of bounds in terms of what we see in other prosperous parts of the country. We look great compared to other parts of West Virginia, and we’re doing well compared to other parts of the nation. But, we’re not like a standout region nationally, we’re just doing well.”
While the state’s economic outlook is positive, there is always room for improvement, Deskins said.
“I don’t want us to think we can’t do better in North Central West Virginia,” he said. “We’re doing very well compared to the state, but it’s not like we’re Silicon Valley or Austin, Texas, or Florida or something like that. We definitely can still push to make positive changes to make our region even stronger. We have a lot of momentum, and we’ve been very stable.”
David Jones, senior vice president of MVB Bank and chairman of the Harrison County Economic Development Corporation, noted unemployment is down.
“I think a lot of that has to do with the resurgence of the oil and gas industry. And the pipelines that have been going on and being constructed in our area, I think have been very helpful,” he said. “We think we’re just seeing a resurgence all around, here in North Central West Virginia in particular.”
The continued success of North Central West Virginia Airport in Bridgeport is another indicator of the region’s strong financial standing, Jones said.
Especially when compared with some of the less prosperous areas of the state, North Central West Virginia is heading into 2019 in an inviable position, Jones said.
“Harrison County is growing together with Mon and Marion Counties,” he said. “Really I think we’re very fortunate with what’s going on here.”
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