Economic recovery is strong for North West Central Virginia, but there is still work to be done | Local News

FAIRMONT – The unofficial chief economist of West Virginia offers a mix of good and bad news for the economic outlook for north-central West Virginia.

In his research, John Deskins, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of West Virginia, compared past economic performance with the state of the region’s economy since the pandemic.

“We’ve seen meltdowns of a similar magnitude, but we’ve never seen anything so rapid,” Deskins said, speaking to the Bridges Without Boundaries Business Summit held at the Robert H. Mollohan Tuesday. Research Center at Fairmont. “We went from 5% unemployment to 16% unemployment in two or three months. Totally, totally unprecedented in economic history. We’ve never seen anything so fast.

“Usually, economic recessions occur because of economic problems. But last year the economy was doing at least pretty well – and a lot of people would say pretty well at the start of last year – and then we have this economic recession, and it’s not economic at all. Its origin is in public health, ”Deskins said.

“It’s very difficult for economists to understand everything that happened in the last year because of these unique characteristics,” Deskins said.

Based on a 94% recovery, in terms of jobs regained as the population began to receive the vaccine, “the recovery has been quite strong and fairly rapid,” Deskins said.

He said the recovery was stronger than he expected.

“So far we have recovered 70,000 jobs,” Deskins said. “We still have 24,000 jobs to complete, but in my opinion, I interpret that as the glass half full.

“However,” Deskins said, “the recovery is not yet over. We believe it will be until the middle or maybe even the third quarter of next year before we fully recover in terms of jobs. So we still have a long way to go. “

Deskins then turned to the long-term economic challenges in West Virginia. He explained that the unemployment rate is based on the number of people who want a job.

A different statistic, the labor force participation rate, identifies the percentage of adults who want to work.

“All of the statistics that I have presented before, I think, are important, but I consider it the most important statistic to characterize the economy of West Virginia,” Deskins said. “West Virginia has the lowest rate, with 55% of adults wanting to work. “

“In West Virginia, if you look at these statistics, it is clear that the problem is not unemployment as measured. It’s the fact that we have 45 percent of our adult population that doesn’t want to work in the first place. And that percentage of the population who don’t want to work is the highest among the 50 states, ”Deskins said.

The national figure is 62%, Deskins said, but that number is based on the 2020 figures, which are lower than normal due to the pandemic. But West Virginia’s numbers have always been around 55%, he said.

“We will never be able to achieve the economic prosperity we hope for in West Virginia unless we can move that yellow bar to the right,” Deskins said.

There are three main reasons why 45% of adults in West Virginia don’t want to work, Deskins said. And these factors should be the focus of state and regional attention.

The first is education and training.

“The idea is pretty simple,” Deskins said. “You have people who would like to work in a perfect world, I think, but they, for some reason, haven’t got the education they need, the training they need, they don’t have the skills. workforce powers they need to truly succeed in the workforce. So they don’t even bother looking for work in the first place.

“One of our main priorities must be better education, better training.

“The next factor is health,” Deskins said.

People with diabetes, cancer, obesity or other health problems are hesitant to work because their medical condition makes it almost impossible. West Virginia ranks first in the country for death rates.

The third big challenge is drug addiction. West Virginia has the highest drug overdose death rate in the country.

Deskins admitted these challenges are intimidating, but can be overcome if West Virginia gives them the highest priority.

In terms of economic development, Deskins mentioned a few areas that could hold promise for north central West Virginia. Some of them are chemicals and plastics manufacturing, aerospace materials manufacturing, and rare earth element processing.

Bridges Without Boundaries has become an annual event for the four Chambers of Commerce in Harrison, Marion, Monongalia and Preston counties to share information and learn about economic projections for the region. The summit is held annually in one of the four counties in turn.

“After hosting the event almost last year, we were delighted with the participation and support of our members,” said Marion County Chamber of Commerce President Tina Shaw. “It’s wonderful to hear such positive comments about North Central West Virginia and we are excited about the future growth. “

Other topics at this year’s summit included infrastructure, post-pandemic Appalachians, COVID silver lining, West Virginia redistribution, and the economic outlook for north-central West Virginia, as well as the ‘State and country.

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