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Panhandle forecast: More, more, more

October 06, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A five-year economic forecast of the Eastern Panhandle doesn't project many surprises.

More jobs. More people. More construction, says the report.

The only obstructions that might block the trend are events such as a significant downturn in the national economy or a large terrorist attack in the Washington, D.C. area, said George W. Hammond, director of the West Virginia Economic Outlook Project at West Virginia University.

A large terrorist attack in Washington, D.C. could deter potential new employers from bringing new business to the region, Hammond said.

Also, Maryland's consideration of legalizing slot machines could threaten the local gaming industry, Hammond said.

Hammond spoke to a group of local business leaders at the Holiday Inn on Foxcroft Avenue Tuesday afternoon, providing his outlook of the area through 2008.

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"It's really more of the same," said Hammond, adding that the area has witnessed 2,100 new jobs since 2000 and an increase of 13,200 in population between 2000 and 2003.

Growth in local job rates, population and per capita income will increase at faster rates than in the rest of the state during the next five years, Hammond said. Most new jobs will be in the service-providing sector, which includes education, health, government and information, Hammond said.

Hammond said he always is "shell shocked" by ongoing events in the Eastern Panhandle, which includes Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties.

Job growth is not unusual for people who live here, but they need to keep in mind that the trend is a stark contrast to the rest of the state, which has posted job losses, Hammond said.

While there has been some loss of manufacturing jobs in the area, residential construction has seen significant growth, Hammond said.

The value of residential construction starts in the region was $357 million last year, which accounted for half of the state total, Hammond said. There have been 590 new construction jobs created since 2000, he said.

"You really buck the trend," Hammond said.

"The Eastern Panhandle has been a phenomenal place to do business," Henry Kayes, president of Centra Bank, said at Tuesday's event.

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