Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

February 17, 2013

Job creation Outlook clouded for W.Va.

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— The job creation outlook for the Mountain State isn’t looking all that promising for the near future. In fact, a new report presented to lawmakers last week is predicting a sluggish job creation growth rate in West Virginia over the next couple of years.

The only silver lining to be found in the report compiled by the College of Business and Economics at West Virginia University is the prediction that those who are working will pull down somewhat bigger paychecks. The findings of the new study were presented to the Joint Committee on Finance last week.

The report also predicted a 1.7 percent average decline in the state’s coal industry over a five-year period, which is more bad news for the coalfields of southern West Virginia.

Dr. Paul Speaker, an associate professor at WVU, believes employment should rise by an average of 1.2 percent through 2017, while salaries climb by 1.3 percent, the Register-Herald in Beckley reported.

“We’re not expecting any real bumps upward,” Speaker said of the long-term economic outlook.

The study is predicting an increase in jobs in the leisure and hospitality fields over the next five years. And one major contributing factor to that increase is the opening of the Summit Bechtel Family Reserve complex in Fayette County for the Boy Scouts of America, and the national jamboree planned in July. The jamboree is expected to attract thousands of Boy Scouts, family members and relatives of the scouts to southern West Virginia.

But even then the study warns that the new jobs created in the leisure and hospitality field are not generally expected to be high-paying jobs.

Another area that is projected to see a two-percent employment increase is the health care sector, and that is linked in part to the needs of an aging state population. The Mountain State is ranked second in the country with residents who are aged 65 and older.

The less than stellar economic outlook presents renewed challenges for lawmakers, and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.

For their part, resurgent Republicans in the House of Delegates, who now control 46 seats in the 100-member House, are pledging to push an aggressive job creation and economic agenda.

That plan includes making the state’s tax structure fair and competitive for job creation while putting more taxpayer dollars back into the hands of working West Virginians. Democrats, who retain a narrow majority in the House and a larger majority in the Senate, must be willing to work with their fellow GOP lawmakers to help bolster the Mountain State’s economic outlook.

Building upon current successes — including the anticipated Marcellus shale gas exploration boon, the opening of the Summit Bechtel Family Reserve complex, the six-county Hatfield-McCoy Trail system and the state’s embattled coal industry — could be key to renewed growth.