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CURRENT STORIES


Micro-what?

by Nora Edinger

REGIONAL EDITOR

CLARKSBURG -- Clarksburg and its environs soon may qualify as the kind of urban area that makes growing companies take a second look, based on new standards enacted by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget.

An Atlanta-based consulting company that helps other businesses pick new sites singled out Clarksburg, along with the rest of Harrison County as well as Taylor and Doddridge counties, as a likely contender for a new Micropolitan Statistical Area designation. A company report prepared for clients showed Clarksburg among the 75 largest of 400 micropolitan areas anticipated to be created nationally, said Steve Terry, director of consulting for Moran, Stahl & Boyer.

The OMB has not yet released the actual designations -- which West Virginia University had previously predicted to include a Metropolitan Statistical Area moniker for Morgantown and its surrounding communities. But, Terry said, the very possibility of the designations is important because it would make the Corridor region stand out on the maps companies use when they site a new corporate office or manufacturing center.

"When you start getting around 80,000 to 90,000 people, that's something that could pop up on the radar screen," he said.

The potential Clarksburg cluster would have a population of about 92,000, according to the 2000 U.S. Census figures Terry's company used to anticipate designations. The computational model considers what outlying areas -- in this case, Doddridge and Taylor -- actually supply workers to the urban center.

The WVU Bureau for Business and Economic Research used the same figures to single out Morgantown's expected metropolitan designation, said Dr. George Hammond, a research assistant professor with the bureau. That designation would be metro- rather than micropolitan because the Morgantown area has a population above 50,000.

Moran, Stahl & Boyer's charting of worker-commuting patterns predicts the Morgantown cluster will include the rest of Monongalia County and Preston County to reach a population of about 111,000 residents.

Terry said companies such as small manufacturers and customer-service centers favor these kinds of small urban clusters because they often mean lower expenses and less competition for the best of a region's workers.

"A lot of times, there's an opportunity ... to be a bigger player."

He said the new OMB standards are allowing companies to identify whole regions of workers instead of single counties whose populations would previously not have been enough to interest. He believes that's good for the businesses and the communities.

"The addition of micropolitan areas will create a much-needed extra layer of data," Terry said. "Site-selection consultants and marketers have been seeking demographic and economic data for smaller urban markets for a number of years."

Hammond said the urban designations also give areas better access to certain types of federal funding and bring in more complete economic data, which can allow for better development planning.

But he cautioned that designations, which he expects to be released any day, also have a political element and may not fall out exactly as Moran, Stahl and Boyer are predicting.

"There's going to be some kind of 'politan' designation for the Corridor," Hammond said. But politicians may debate such facts as how the areas are named and whether there will be side-by-side clusters or the whole region will become one large cluster.

That could be an issue locally as the Moran, Stahl and Boyer report also shows Fairmont/Marion County as also qualifying for a micropolitan designation. The company projections, therefore, show the Corridor region with three urban clusters in a row.

Elsewhere in the state, the report also anticipates micropolitan designations for Bluefield/Mercer County/Tazewell County, Va. and Beckley/Raleigh County.

The report also projects some changes to previously designated metropolitan areas in the state. Namely, the Charleston area is expected to add nearly 58,000 residents with the inclusion of Boone, Clay and Lincoln counties. Also, the Huntington-Ashland, Ky. metro area is expected to lose 27,000 residents from Carter County, Ky. and the Parkersburg-Marietta, Ohio metro area is expected to take in 13,000 residents from Pleasants and Wirt counties.

Metro areas around Wheeling and Steubenville, Ohio-Weirton are not expected to change, Terry said.

Regional editor Nora Edinger can be reached at 626-1447 or by e-mail at nedinger@exponent-telegram.com.