A new report by the West Virginia University Bureau of Business and Economic Research (BBER) confirms what anecdotal evidence has told us—the Eastern Panhandle (Jefferson, Berkeley and Morgan Counties) continues to be the strongest economic region of the state.
The just-released report lists a number of facts about economic performance in the region. Among them:
—Local employers have added 10,000 new jobs since 2010, by far more than any other area of the state.
—The opening of Proctor & Gamble’s $500 million manufacturing facility and Macy’s fulfillment center have driven broad-based growth in manufacturing, transportation and warehousing sectors.
—The unemployment rate, which peaked above eight percent there during the Great Recession, has dropped to just above three percent, the lowest of any West Virginia region.
—The size of the Eastern Panhandle’s labor force, a key factor in economic growth, has increased by 11,000 since 2010. Nearly two-thirds of the working-age adults in the counties are in the labor force, compared with only about half statewide.
—People are moving to the area. The Eastern Panhandle has added more than 64,000 residents over the last two decades. Statewide, the population has been stagnant or declining in most areas.
—The area has benefited significantly from its proximity to major metropolitan areas. “Earnings outside of the three-county area account for more than one-third of the region’s income.” Roughly 40 percent of the panhandle’s workforce works in the greater Washington D.C. area.
The economic growth is reflected in wages and benefits. According to the report, the mean household income in 2017 was just under $78,000, nearly $20,000 higher that the state mean.
The BBER researchers expect the trend to continue. They forecast growth in population, employment, wages and salaries to continue at least through 2024.
The Eastern Panhandle has many advantages that much of the rest of the state does not, including available flat land for development and easy proximity to population centers. It also has a larger pool of available workers.
The Eastern Panhandle has always been somewhat of an outlier from the rest of West Virginia. The Eastern Continental Divide has long been a physical and cultural barrier separating the eastern most counties from the Mountain State.
That has led to frequent complaints by residents there that Charleston doesn’t pay enough attention to them. However, that has become less so now that Jefferson, Berkeley and Morgan Counties make up the most dynamic region of the state.