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Panhandle's economic outlook vibrant

A West Virginia University professor said he expects residential and economic growth to continue in the region.

A West Virginia University professor said he expects residential and economic growth to continue in the region.

September 06, 2002|by CANDICE BOSELY

MARTINSBURG, W. Va. - After giving an economic outlook for the Eastern Panhandle during a seminar attended Thursday by around 150 business people and local officials, a West Virginia University professor said nobody needed to rush out for a "stiff drink."

The forecast for this region is excellent, said George W. Hammond, director of the West Virginia Outlook project and a research assistant professor at WVU's College of Business and Economics.

"All in all, (it is) a pleasure to give a forecast like that," he said, after detailing his expectations that growth, both residential and economic, will continue in Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties.


Hammond spoke during the one-day Eastern Panhandle Region Economic Outlook 2003 seminar at the Holiday Inn.

Several factors offset the Panhandle from the rest of the state, where the forecast is not so sunny, he said.

This area has several government entities, including the Coast Guard facility, IRS and Veterans Affairs Medical Center; jobs in recreation at Charles Town Races & Slots and smaller tourist destinations like Berkeley Springs; and a significant printing industry, with Quad/Graphics and Quebecore, two printing giants, both in Martinsburg.

Losses were reported and are expected to continue in the manufacturing sector of the market, but gains are expected in construction. Several other areas, including services; transportation, communication and public utilities; and finance, insurance and real estate are expected to grow at about the same pace in the next four years as they have since 1995, Hammond said.

"The region has really been once of the star performers compared to the rest of the state," he said.

Unemployment should drop to 2.9 percent by the year 2006, Hammond said. The region will add around 900 jobs a year until 2006, assuming the national economy avoids recession, he said.

After his presentation, Hammond fielded questions from the audience.

Since printing is so important, one person asked Hammond if he thought the Internet would negatively affect the industry.

Hammond said no, adding that he still subscribes to several magazines, and, like any good West Virginian, plans to continue receiving Cabela's catalogs. Cabela's carries hunting and fishing gear.

Several local business officials spoke.

Jane Peters, executive director of the Jefferson County Development Authority, said the recession affected Jefferson County, with production slowing and unemployment increasing, both by small amounts.

A number of business prospects could bring in jobs, she said.

Sept. 11 had little to no effect, other than an increase in weekend getaways, she said. Bed and breakfast owners and others have seen an increase in travelers, she said.

Creating jobs for the 50 percent of Jefferson County residents who commute, typically to the south or east, is important, she said. Telecommunications has improved, and officials are pursuing companies that would bring to the area high technology jobs, she said.

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