An optimistic eye toward W.Va.'s economic future

We’ve all heard the adage, “There’s no where to go but up.”

Well, when it comes to West Virginia’s economic forecast, that was the good news that emerged from the annual Economic Outlook Conference Thursday in Charleston.

The state’s lead economist, John Deskins of West Virginia University, referenced that when he said, “I don’t have as much bad news this time. The good news is we finally hit bottom.”

Deskins then went on to provide supporting evidence:

  • After five years of decline, the economy has started to rebound. 
  • Of more than 26,000 jobs lost since 2012, about 4,500 have been regained. 
  • Coal production has stabilized at about 90 million tons a year, up from about 80 million tons last year, but still far below the 2008 high of 158 million tons. 
  • Natural gas prices are increasing as the ability to transport the gas to new markets emerges.   
  • But as Staff Writer Rusty Marks reports in this week’s issue, there are still obstacles to overcome:

  • Sluggish gross domestic product growth
  • Low average wages, only about 75 percent of the national average
  • The nation’s lowest workplace participation rate at 53 percent
  • But there are reasons for optimism, perhaps none greater than the need to have a positive outlook if we really want to move West Virginia forward.

    We have seen some growth opportunities just in the past week in the automotive industry, with expansion efforts at the Toyota plant in Buffalo and the planned relocation of Hino Motors to a bigger location and the promise of about 250 jobs.

    And there is a strong sense that the oil and natural gas industry is about to surge again, just needing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s approval of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project to push it into overdrive.

    When that occurs, hundreds will be hired, wells will increase production and more wells will be drilled, all spurring significant economic activity.

    Along with that, efforts to locate an ethane storage hub, either in the Mountain State or in neighboring Ohio or Pennsylvania, will create the ability to diversify the state’s manufacturing base by providing much needed feed stock for the plastics and chemical industries.

    We agree with Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher, who said, “This state is not lacking in ideas. What it is dramatically lacking in is people taking great ideas and moving forward.”

    Thrasher is right. And more emphasis needs to be placed on finding those people and helping them by removing obstacles that stunt growth opportunities.

    In terms of diversifying the state’s economy, government and business leaders have made strides. But there remain mountains to move in terms of improved educational opportunities, a more business-friendly environment and obstacles to small business growth.

    The good news is change is afoot. And the possibilities are endless.