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Expert Economy should improve

by Shawn Gainer

STAFF WRITER

Clarksburg has many of the prerequisites for economic growth, according to the West Virginia Bureau of Business and Economic Research.

The bureau produces a yearly economic outlook that is presented to the state Legislature. Dr. George W. Hammond, a research assistant professor with the bureau, identifies transportation infrastructure and access to higher education as key requirements for economic growth.

Clarksburg has good transportation access through Interstate 79, U.S. Route 50 and Benedum Airport. Several higher education institutions are accessible from Clarksburg, including Fairmont State College, West Virginia University, Salem International University and Alderson-Broaddus College, while a branch of FSC, the Gaston Caperton Center, is located in downtown Clarksburg.

"The junction of Rt. 50 and I-79 has already contributed to retail growth in the area," Hammond said. "Road access is something you have to have. If you make a product, you have to be able to ship it. If you sell a product, you have to be able to have it shipped to you," he said.

In the outlook, Harrison County is grouped with Marion and Monongalia counties. The forecast for 1998-2003 calls for the region to continue to add jobs and inflation-adjusted personal income, while population and unemployment rates should stabilize around current levels.

However, Hammond added the regional economy is closely tied to the national economy. Job and income growth is dependent on the national economy staying out of recession through 2003.

According to the outlook, job growth in the region from 1990 to 1997 exceeded job growth statewide despite continued job losses in the coal industry.

The five-year forecast calls for continued job growth in 1998-2003, though at a slower rate than the 1.9 percent per year of the previous five years.

Growth is expected in business services such as telemarketing and computer programming. Mining jobs are expected to decline, though at a slower rate than they did in the first half of the 1990s. Government jobs are forecasted to continue growing, but at a slower pace.

"We had a real spike in federal jobs from the FBI Center. That's leveling out now," Hammond said.

While Clarksburg has drawn nothing like a Toyota engine plant to replace manufacturing and mining jobs that have left in the past, City Manager Tom Vidovich said he believes Clarksburg's access to transportation and higher education puts the city in a good position for job growth in services, retail and light manufacturing.

"Merrick Corp. (a hanger manufacturer) has been no small boon to economic development and Infocision (a telemarketing firm) creates a lot of jobs," Vidovich said. "Admittedly, we have not attracted smokestack industry like we have before, but we have attracted light industry and services."

While three businesses, Elby's on Emily Drive and Rite Aid and The Clarksburg Movie Cafe on Main Street, have announced their closure, city officials such as Councilman Jim Hunt maintain closures are a natural part of the business cycle and do not spell economic doom for the city.

Vidovich said Clarksburg's transportation advantages will increase with the completion of Corridor H, and would be further aided by a proposed widening of U.S. Route 50 toward the east.

"Once you have east, west, north and south traffic, this whole region, including Clarksburg, will be more competitive," Vidovich said. "I think Clarksburg will continue to be the commercial hub of the area."

Vidovich also said he does not view Clarksburg as a hard-pressed competitor of Bridgeport, which has a median household income that is nearly twice that of Clarksburg, and has attracted major developments such as Charles Pointe.

"Charles Pointe could increase property values in Clarksburg," he said. "I believe what is good for the region is good for Clarksburg and vice versa."

Staff writer Shawn Gainer can be reached at 626-1442 or by e-mail at sgainer@exponent-telegram.com.

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