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Eastern W.Va. economy may keep booming

November 19, 1998|By BRYN MICKLE

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W. Va. - The economic forecast is rosy for the Eastern Panhandle, according to West Virginia University researchers.

The researchers anticipate the economies of Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties will continue to exceed state and national averages in job, population and income gains.

About 100 area business owners, bankers and professionals convened at the Clarion Hotel in Shepherdstown on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the economic future of the Eastern Panhandle.

Dr. George W. Hammond, of WVU's College of Business and Economics, said the region is expected to see gains in the areas of aircraft manufacturing and printing and publishing. A slowdown in job growth in trade, service and government is also anticipated, but Hammond said even those are expected to continue at a higher rate than state and national averages.

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While the Eastern Panhandle's tight job market makes it attractive to those seeking jobs, Hammond said it can also act as a double-edged sword by scaring off some companies that might locate elsewhere amid fears they won't be able to find employees.

Jefferson County Development Authority Executive Director Jane K. Peters said the three counties are working on solutions to that problem, including the use of job fairs and creating more day care opportunities.

Martinsburg accountant Fred Hollida agreed that it can be tough to fill job slots. To compete, he said, his 40-person firm must offer higher wages, make benefits more attractive and do more year-round recruitment.

"Still, it's a great problem to have," Hollida said.

Hammond acknowledged the strong economic forecast is based on a variety of assumptions, including the additional aircraft manufacturing jobs and a continuing of state and national trends.

Hammond said the Eastern Panhandle has a good mix of jobs in diverse areas, helping to protect the region against declines in any particular part of the employment sector.

The conference was sponsored by Huntington Banks and WVU with co-sponsorship from the Greater Eastern Panhandle Chamber of Commerce.

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