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Economists give North Central region high marks

by Shawn Gainer

STAFF WRITER

CHARLESTON -- North Central West Virginia is in relatively better economic shape than many other regions of the state, according to West Virginia University economists.

This especially applies to Harrison County, said Dr. Tom Witt, associate dean of Business and Economics at WVU.

"There's potential additional growth at the FBI," Witt said. "The intersection of (US) Route 50 and I 79 is the most heavily trafficked intersection in the north central area and there's been a lot of retail growth around it. Another possible source of growth is Benedum Airport.

Witt and Dr. George Hammond, director of the WVU Economic Outlook Program, presented an Economic Forecast for year 2000 to legislators Tuesday afternoon. Harrison County has many of the keys for job and income growth identified by Hammond, including good transportation infrastructure, a diverse business mix and access to higher education.

Thus Harrison may be on the better side of a trend of increasing disparity and job and income growth among counties.

"The state has made a lot of progress in reducing unemployment and increasing living standards since 1982," Hammond said. "However there is great disparity in this progress. Rural, isolated counties are way behind metropolitan areas. We expect these income gaps will continue to grow.

According to Witt and Hammond, there are economic differences among counties in the north central region as well. In 1997 median per-capita income in Harrison County fell between $18,725 to 424,489 -- the range of the top 12 counties in the state. Doddridge, Taylor, Barbour, Tucker, Gilmer, Lewis, Upshur and Braxton counties fell within the $14,334 to $16,554 range. The median in Randolph County was in the $16,555 to $18,724 range.

Hammond said that much of the reduction in unemployment since 1982 was due to a massive out-migration of residents seeking better job opportunities in other states.

"The good news is that most of them stayed east of the Mississippi," he said. "Many went to nearby metro areas like Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Columbus."

Other negative trends are a continuing decline in mining jobs, largely a result of changes in mining methods.

Eight of the 10 fastest growing industries, which are mostly in the service sector, pay less than the state's average wage, Hammond said.

The key to reversing this trend is increasing educational attainment and continuing to improve transportation infrastructure, Hammond said.

"The jobs that have both high growth and high wages generally require a bachelor's degree," he said.

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