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Martinsburg, Morgantown only large W.Va. cities gaining in population

July 10, 2008

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- Only two big West Virginia cities have experienced sustained population growth in recent years, mostly because they were boosted by high-tech industries, education and younger populations, according to Census figures released Thursday.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported Thursday that Morgantown and Martinsburg are the only two large cities in the state to see significant population increases from 2000 to 2007.

They were the only two among the 10 largest cities to see increases in that period, although Fairmont and Beckley recorded modest increases from 2006 to 2007, the Census estimates.

Morgantown, in fact, overtook Wheeling to become the fourth-largest city in the state, with 29,361 residents, or 260 more than the Northern Panhandle city. Morgantown grew from 26,676 residents in 2000.

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Martinsburg, the state's ninth-largest city with 16,450 residents, grew from 14,943 in 2000.

Charleston is still the largest city in the state, and the only city with more than 50,000 residents. Huntington is the second largest, and Parkersburg is at third.

The growth of Morgantown and Martinsburg is an indication that while the state's older industries -- like steel, once the pillar of Wheeling's economy -- are in decline, new job creation in high-tech areas like the research parks clustered in Monongalia County are drawing people to the state.

"There are a lot of factors that drive city growth, but economic growth is certainly an important one," said George Hammond, associate director of West Virginia University's Bureau for Business and Economic Research.

Monongalia County, where WVU and Morgantown are located, has added 11,100 new jobs since 2000, Hammond said, more than double the next-highest job growth in the state -- the 4,500 jobs created in Berkeley County, where Martinsburg is the county seat.

Another factor is demographics. Morgantown has not only benefited from rising enrollment at WVU, but from a younger overall population, while Martinsburg and the Eastern Panhandle have boomed with a growing population of commuters to Washington, D.C.

Since 2000, West Virginia has seen an overall "negative natural increase," Hammond said, meaning there have been 941 more deaths than births statewide. But in Monongalia County, the decade has seen 1,934 more births than deaths, and Berkeley County has recorded 3,722 more births than deaths.

Cities with shrinking populations face the possibility of losing some federal funding and a declining tax base. Some of those concerns have prompted Kanawha County officials to explore the idea of consolidating in a form of metro government, which would boost Charleston's population to nearly 200,000.

The city's current population is 50,478, down from 53,340 in 2000.

"That's nipping and tucking," Mayor Danny Jones said Thursday. "Charleston's going to be fine either way, but it would reflect positively on our status to stay above 50,000."

The smallest of the 233 West Virginia incorporated areas included in the Census estimate is the Fayette County town of Thurmond, with a population of seven, which has held steady since 2000.




W.Va.'s 10 largest cities



By The Associated Press

From the U.S. Census Bureau population report of U.S. cities, released Thursday, the 10 largest cities in West Virginia:

1. Charleston -- 50,478

2. Huntington -- 48,982

3. Parkersburg -- 31,617

4. Morgantown -- 29,361

5. Wheeling -- 29,101

6. Fairmont -- 19,096

7. Weirton -- 18,842

8. Beckley -- 16,830

9. Martinsburg -- 16,450

10. Clarksburg -- 16,341

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