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Panhandle to see economic rebound

By Staff | Oct 28, 2011

MARTINSBURG – The northeastern region of West Virginia has seen a significant economic rebound, and all indications are that the momentum will continue.

Economic growth in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle region is forecast to accelerate during the next four years, according to the latest forecast from the West Virginia University College of Business and Economics. That region includes Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties.

“This is welcome news after the region endured significant job losses, a massive increase in the unemployment rate, sluggish population growth and declines in inflation-adjusted per capita personal income during the Great Recession,” said George Hammond, associate director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research in the College.

The region lost 2,390 jobs from 2007 to 2010, a decline of 4.9 percent. The nation experienced a larger employment decline during the period, of 5.6 percent, while the state did better, with a decline of 1.6 percent. The Eastern Panhandle also posted an unemployment rate of 8.8 percent in 2010, up significantly from 3.5 percent in 2007. However, the region’s unemployment rate was below the state and the national rates in 2010 of 9.1 percent and 9.6 percent, respectively.

Preliminary data suggest that the downturn has ended for the Eastern Panhandle, as jobs have begun to increase and the unemployment rate has begun to fall.

“Through August of 2011, Eastern Panhandle nonfarm payroll employment was up 341 jobs from the same period of 2010, with job growth concentrated in leisure and hospitality, health care, construction and information,” Hammond said.

Job gains in these sectors were partially offset by losses in professional and business services; government, particularly federal government; financial activities; and trade, transportation and utilities.

The outlook for the Eastern Panhandle depends on national and global economic growth, which has decelerated recently. The baseline national forecast calls for continued, but slow, growth during the 2011-2013 period. That sets the stage for continued growth in the Eastern Panhandle region.

“In addition, the location of the Macy’s fulfillment center in Berkeley County and the expansion at Quad/Graphics will significantly spur growth. Overall, the forecast calls for job growth in the region to significantly outpace gains for the state and the nation,” Hammond said.

As job growth accelerates, the region’s unemployment rate falls from 8.8 percent in 2010 to 5.4 percent by 2015.

Accelerating job growth during the forecast means stronger inflation-adjusted per capita income growth in the region, as well. In addition, the region is forecast to continue to post population growth well above the state and national rates during the next four years.

Details of the forecast are presented in the Eastern Panhandle Region Outlook: 2011-2015, available free online at www.bber.wvu.edu.