West Virginia's economy shows signs of growth, but only in some regions

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BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. (WDTV) -- West Virginia's economy has strengthened in recent years, but the growth is concentrated in certain regions.

West Virginia's economy has strengthened in recent years, but the growth is concentrated in certain regions. (Photo: WDTV)

Most of the growth, experts say, is concentrated in the eastern panhandle and north-central regions.

At the state capitol Wednesday, WVU's John Deskins presented the West Virginia Economic Outlook for 2020-2024. He told lawmakers the state needs to focus on expanding growth.

“Growth is underway and it is continuing but I don’t want to be too excited because that improvement isn’t happening everywhere. It is concentrated in a couple of dimensions. We need to focus on getting that growth to broaden in several ways across our economy,” Deskins said.

Bridgeport is among the thriving economic cities in the state. It posted a city-record $95-million in construction last year, triggered by the new $38-million indoor recreation complex. It's projected to open in the spring of 2021.

"We are coming into the new decade strong," said Bridgeport Director of Community Development Andrea Kerr. "We have a lot going on in Bridgeport. We have a lot of projects in the works. I think 2020 is going to be another banner year for us."

Various industries support Bridgeport's strong economy, from the healthcare field to the aviation industry.

Economists project continued gains in the energy and manufacturing sectors across the state in the coming years.

While there are signs of economic growth throughout parts of the West Virginia, the state is still losing residents.

The 2020 Census is expected to show another population decline in West Virginia and lead to the loss of a congressional seat.

It was one of 10 states to lose population between 2018 and 2019. West Virginia's population loss by percentage led the nation.

But as for the people staying in West Virginia, Deskins said some are hurting the economy.

West Virginia is last in the country in labor force participation at 54% - nine percentage points below the national average.

“We will never achieve economic prosperity if we have 9% of the adult population sitting on the sidelines, compared to the national figure," Deskins said.

As for North Central West Virginia, leaders hope to expand on their own growth - and work together to improve the overall economy in the state.

"It's a team effort," Kerr said. "We have a lot of partners in North Central West Virginia. We have community partners and county partners. We work well together. If people start working together, they'll see a lot of progress."

As for the congressional seats, if West Virginia does lose a representative, the state legislature will draw a new congressional map.

A special election would then be held to determine who represents West Virginia in Washington.