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Panhandle employment solid

May 25, 1999|By BRYN MICKLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The unemployment rate continues to drop across the Eastern Panhandle, according to the latest state statistics.

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With the statewide unemployment average for April 1999 at 6.9 percent, the Eastern Panhandle was rated "much better than average" by the West Virginia Bureau of Employment Programs.

Berkeley County's jobless rate dropped from 4.7 percent in April 1998 to 3.5 percent last month and Jefferson County's dropped from 3.1 percent to 2.8 percent. Morgan County's rate declined from 4.3 percent to 2.4 percent, according to the state.

The unemployment statistics are based on the number of county residents who have jobs, either within or outside West Virginia.

Berkeley County has 33,670 employed residents, Jefferson County has 21,300 employed residents and Morgan County has 6,050 employed residents, according to the state.

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While the number of county residents with jobs is on the rise, the manager of the state Job Service Office in Martinsburg said people come into his office with an eye toward improving their situations.

"We're almost at full employment but we still have people searching for higher-paying jobs or looking for work inside (West Virginia)," Marco Zappala said.

One-third of Eastern Panhandle residents travel outside of West Virginia for work, Zappala said.

"I get the sense that with the increase in development in the Eastern Panhandle, the region is becoming a larger bedroom community for the Washington, D.C.-area," Bureau of Employment Programs data analyst Joe Doran said.

The low unemployment rate is also the result of economic development across the Eastern Panhandle, Doran said.

Large companies such as Quad Graphics and Quebecor Printing can stabilize the job market for an area and spawn smaller service industries that also boost employment levels, Zappala said.

Despite the chance that a low-unemployment level is scaring off potential economic development projects, Zappala said successful industry also has the potential of bringing more people into the area.

"The labor pool only holds so much water, but with slow and controlled growth you have people migrating in to fill those job gaps," Zappala said.

The unemployment rate has been dropping steadily in the Eastern Panhandle since the early 1990s but has leveled out over the past two years, Zappala said.

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