Panhandle growth to continue

November 21, 1997

Panhandle growth to continue


Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The Eastern Panhandle should see economic growth over the next five years that exceeds the rest of the state and more closely mirrors the performance of the national economy, according to West Virginia University's Bureau of Business and Economic Research.

"It's more diversified than most regions and that's a big advantage," said George Hammond, an assistant professor with the bureau, to more than 100 business and political leaders Thursday at the Eastern Panhandle Economic Conference.

"We'll see job growth at rates lower than we saw earlier in the decade," Hammond told the group at the Holiday Inn Martinsburg. Fueled by population growth and federal projects, the Panhandle saw robust growth in government, health care, social services, transportation, communication and public utilities during the early 1990s, Hammond said.


Barring a national recession, he predicted continued but slower job growth in those segments. Manufacturing, construction, business and financial services should be job creation leaders between now and 2002, Hammond predicted.

Sino Swearingen and TLM building aircraft at the West Virginia Eastern Regional Airport, Quad/Graphics and other industries will be leaders in producing manufacturing jobs.

Population will continue to grow at about 2 percent a year in the Panhandle, far exceeding growth throughout the rest of the state, Hammond said. Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties have about 121,000 residents now. That figure should hit about 140,000 in five years, he said.

Demographics have been a sore spot for West Virginia since 1980. During the 1980s the state's population dropped by 8 percent, in part because of economic hard times that saw unemployment hit 18 percent in 1983, according to Hammond.

The state gained 33,000 residents during the 1990s, but continued to lose young people under the age of 44.

"West Virginia is now the oldest state in the nation in terms of median age," at 35.7 years, he said.

Without economic development to attract more people to the state, Hammond said the population could again decline because of the aging population and low birth rate.

In a panel discussion after Hammond spoke, Berkeley County Development Authority Executive Director Robert Crawford said roads and utilities in the Panhandle must be improved, "not after expansion, but in anticipation of that growth."

Crawford also said regional industries are not looking seriously enough at export markets. The state should be spending more to help land prospective industries because "incentives are a given in the economic development arena," he said.

Clarence E. "CEM" Martin III, president of the Greater Eastern Panhandle Chamber of Commerce, said the state has been successful in attracting foreign business, but improvements in public education, utilities, taxes and tax incentives are needed to attract more.

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