In the beginning of 2014, I was asked by the WV Attorney General’s office to participate in a town hall meeting to discuss issues impacting the WV economy. As a business and bankruptcy lawyer, I wanted to do my diligence. I asked my clients and colleagues what they believed were significant factors. Here was a punch list of the issues identified by them and those at the town hall meeting:
- retention and attraction of young talent
- scarcity of livable downtown spaces in major WV cities, Weirton, Wheeling, Huntington, Charleston, Martinsburg, Morgantown
- healthcare reform proving costly for new businesses
- business and Occupancy taxes
- rampant drug addiction
- revitalization of old industry to attract new industry.
- deterioration of main streets
- oil and gas industry presence.
Prior to the town hall meeting, I also asked Justin Saporito, my law clerk to take to google to research this topic.
Justin found a 2014 Outlook Report (Report) for WV’s economy, produced by West Virginia University’s College of Business and Economics (one of my alma maters).
The economy of West Virginia has grown steadily over the past year with Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growing by 3.3% over the past year, ranking it tenth (10th) among U.S. states in real GDP growth. This growth was the result of several factors such as the addition of 3,000 new jobs over the past year, a state unemployment rate that has remained 1% below the national average for the past five years, and increased exports. Exports accounted for 16% of state economic output in 2012 compared with only 5% in 2000. The housing and automotive sectors of the economy, important indicators of economic health, have also seen increases. Home sales in WV are on par with home sales during the 2004-2005 housing boom and auto sales are at pre-recession levels.
According to the report, the key drivers of the economy in 2012 were coal mining, natural gas, healthcare, tourism, electrical power manufacturing, and chemical manufacturing. The Report predicted that annual job growth would increase in the healthcare services, wholesale and retail trade, construction, and professional and business service sectors every year through 2017.
A shining light for WV’s economy has been the city of Morgantown. Morgantown boasts an unemployment rate that is 3% below the national average with job growth above the national average with an estimated annual job growth rate of 2% in the coming years.
It is not all good news for WV however as it is ranked 47th among the 50 states in per capita income. Another major concern is the declining and aging population. WV’s median age is 5 years above the national average. Another concern is the state budget, ¼ of which comes from coal tax revenue and lottery revenue. With coal production predicted to fall through 2017, the state will have to find additional sources of revenue in the coming years. Despite these looming issues, WV is expected to have revenue growth of 3.5% for 2014.