Some of the economic trends in West Virginia remind us of those occasions when the sun shines during a rain storm.
The U.S. Department of Commerce last week released figures showing the burgeoning natural gas industry has given West Virginia one of the fastest growing economies in the United States, at least by one measure. The Mountain State’s gross domestic product increased from $64.7 billion in 2013 to $68 billion in 2014, a gain of 5.1 percent, a rate exceeded only by Texas and North Dakota.
But an analysis of employment since the recession by the Pew Foundation, also released in recent weeks, showed West Virginia had the smallest job growth of any state in the country since its recession low point in 2010. The state’s job base has grown only 2.16 percent, far below the national average of about 8 percent since the recession low points.
In 2013, oil and natural gas jobs grew by about 800, but job losses in the coal industry and related support services were about 2,600, according to the West Virginia University Bureau of Business and Economic Research. Moreover, the outlook for job growth from oil and natural gas is limited at this point.
The WVU forecast does see some job growth in the coming years about 0.9 percent annually. But that would lag behind the 1.5 percent growth rate predicted for the rest of the nation and underscores the need for West Virginia leaders to find ways to add jobs in other areas.
That means working to improve the quality and skill level of the state’s workforce, upgrading critical infrastructure such as transportation and broadband, and encouraging small business development and innovation.
Energy will always be a key part of the West Virginia economy, but these numbers show the state needs some new business engines as well.