High-tech jobs on rise in Panhandle

May 23, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION


High-tech employers such as software makers, an Internet college and sophisticated government agencies have started to move into West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle, and local economic development officials are working to continue the trend.

Much of the work revolves around marketing the Eastern Panhandle for such firms and the latest efforts were unveiled Monday during a conference in Shepherdstown.

A CD-Rom custom-designed to highlight advantages of bringing businesses to Jefferson, Berkeley or Morgan counties was shown to a crowd of about 100 at a meeting of the Gateway New Economy Council at the Clarion Hotel & Conference Center.


Narrated by Ed Herendeen, producing director and founder of the Contemporary American Theater Festival at Shepherd University, the CD-Rom shows congested metropolitan areas where many high-tech companies are. The CD-Rom follows by showing the Panhandle's lush, rolling farmland, which is "miles away from congestion" and offers a high quality of life to new workers.

"We have what few places can offer," Herendeen says in the production.

Other advantages that the region offers to new employers are access to four community colleges and seven universities which produce top-rated students and can help businesses with research, said Mark Patton, an associate professor of business at Shepherd University.

The Gateway New Economy Council was formed about four years ago to promote high-tech growth in the area.

High-tech operations that have moved into the region have included an expanded IRS center and a U.S. Coast Guard facility that supports information systems and databases for Coast Guard operations worldwide.

Both of those operations are in Berkeley County.

New aircraft companies have popped up in Berkeley County, a computer software production company moved into a building in downtown Charles Town and a Internet-based university that serves thousands of students around the world has also made Charles Town its home.

Local economic development officials have said they believe that high-tech companies can be attracted to the area because of the large number of highly skilled workers who live in the Eastern Panhandle but commute elsewhere for work. Economic development experts believe those people would trade their commute for a comparable job locally if there were more available.

So far, mostly low-paying jobs are being generated locally, said Tom Witt, director of the bureau of business and economic research at the College of Business and Economics at West Virginia University.

Many of the jobs are in fields like retail, Witt said.

For more information on the Gateway New Economy Council, see

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