Government, News

Leaders hope strong regional economy could boost rest of Mountain State

MORGANTOWN — An uneven economic recovery in West Virginia has disproportionately served some industries and some geographic regions ahead of others — at least so far.

But Eldon Callen, VP for Intergovernmental Affairs with the Morgantown Area Chamber of Commerce, is hoping a regional economic boom — powered by the Morgantown area — can also power a boom in the state.

“I see a community connected with Preston County to Marion County to Wetzel County,” he said. “We’ve got to open up that I-68 corridor to Ohio.”

Creating a strong regional economy, Callen hopes, will lead to a geographic impact further and further away — a ripple effect of sorts throughout West Virginia’s economically lagging regions. Just two years ago, at least six of West Virginia’s 55 counties were considered to be in an economic depression.

Yet even during the economic downturn, Monongalia County has stayed reasonably prosperous.

“Here locally, we tend to have more of a diverse mix of industries,” said Brian Lego, a WVU Research Assistant Professor with the Bureau of Business & Economic Research. “When one’s down, others can kind of pick up the slack.”

Callen sees that diversity in the North Central West Virginia region as an advantage that maybe no other part of the state can claim. Because of that, he fears many other parts of the state do not have the same rosy outlook on the state’s long-term economic outlook — and future confidence is an important part of economic health.

“There has almost been an acceptance — and I’ve seen it back into the 1950’s — that West Virginia is going to shrink, people are going to leave,” Callen said. “I’ve seen this all my life.”

Dr. Lego said that is true in much of the state’s Southern Coalfields, Metro Valley, and New River Gorge region — though less true in the Eastern Panhandle and to an extent in the Northern Panhandle.

“It would be ideal, of course, to have growth everywhere,” Lego said. “But it is not typically the case in most parts of the world.”

Meaning growth needs to have an epicenter — a place of inception. And what better place as the epicenter than Monongalia County, Callen mused.

“I predict that we should have one or two more interchanges along I-79,” he said. “I see greater improvement and opening up of infrastructure into (Rt.) 50. We need to open up our market down into Tucker County, down into Pendleton County, and connect into Corridor H.”

Both men agreed that means infrastructure developments. For Callen, that means expansion of I-68 and greater development along the I-79 corridor.

“Two additional interchanges will change the entire complexion of our region here,” Callen said.

You can read more on the state’s economic outlook here.