MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A West Virginia University economist credits the energy industry with fueling West Virginia’s latest economic growth.

“We’ve had improvements in coal, coal has picked up from about 80 million tons in 2016 up to 95 million tons last year. We expect this year to be similar,” said Dr. John Deskins, director of West Virginia University’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research.

John Deskins

“Gas production continues to grow at a healthy pace. Most importantly, construction associated with natural gas — especially pipeline construction — that’s really boosting the economy.”

During the 1st Quarter of 2019, a report from the Bureau of Economic Analysis in the U.S. Department of Commerce said West Virginia led the nation with a 5.6 percent personal income growth rate.

“We’ve added more than 11,000 jobs over the last two or two-and-a-half years, GDP numbers have been strong and that leads to high personal income as well,” Deskins said on MetroNews “Talkline.”

However, Deskins said sustaining economic growth in West Virginia will require diversification.

“The way you really have to achieve industrial diversification in a healthy way is through supporting small businesses by encouraging them to try different things, go different directions and innovate,” he said.

“A healthy small business environment will help us find the right mix for our state.”

One area that West Virginia lags behind in is venture capital. He cited a few examples across the state, but added the resources available in areas like Boston or Silicon Valley are not available here.

On the campus of WVU, Deskins said they have launched the concept of business incubators. Business incubators provide a space for small businesses to operate while gaining the economic stability to function independently.