CHARLESTON — On Thursday, USA Today published an article on 25 cities in the United States that are losing more residents than gaining.
Five of the top 10 metro areas on the list were West Virginia areas including Wheeling, Charleston, Beckley, and Weirton. Cumberland, Maryland was the fifth area involving the Mountain State on the list of shrinking cities.
Brian Lego, Assistant Professor at WVU at the Bureau of Business and Economic Research appeared on Thursday’s MetroNews ‘Talkline’ and said most of these areas have been so dependent on just one industry and now that industry is gone.
“In it’s heyday, you would see places like Wheeling, Youngstown, Weirton that all have the steel industry flourishing,” he said. “As time has gone on, that industry has become a smaller shell of itself.”
The Charleston metro area was third on the list with a 5.5 percent loss in population from 226,901 to 214, 406 and nearly 10,000 residents lost due to migration.
All metro area numbers were measured from 2010 to 2017.
Fifth on the list was Beckley with a 5.1 percent loss in population from 124,959 to 118,250 and losing more than 4,500 due to migration.
Right behind Beckley was Weirton and Steubenville, Ohio area with a 4.9 percent loss in population from 124,326 to 118, 250 and losing more than 2,000 due to migration.
Down the Ohio River from Weirton is Wheeling, which that area has suffered a 4.5 loss in population change, ranking 8th on the list. The Wheeling area has seen a loss of 3,700 residents due to migration.
The Cumberland, Maryland area that borders West Virginia shows a population loss of 4.2 percent from 103,161 to 98,837 and a loss of more than 2,500 residents due to migration.
Johnstown, Pennsylvania is 2nd on the list and Youngstown, Ohio is 12 on the list. Lego said many in the top half of the list of 25 are in the same region because this is a cycle that can be hard to break out of.
“It’s a cycle built upon itself,” he said. “You have an area that is doing well, you continue to track business, new jobs are created that create opportunities and become a pull factor for people to move into an area. They move from one place to another and it becomes an opposite condition for areas that are losing industry and losing residents as a result.
“You lose your key employer in an area and all of a sudden the people that are left are faced with problems that could cause a move.”
As for attracting residents to the areas, Lego said that is a tough solution to answer but the areas are trying different methods.
“Some have tried to produce themselves as niche tourists area or to emphasize some sort growth opportunities for service industries, rather than focusing more on tourism and data servers, farms, those sorts of things.
“Those have cropped up as opportunities for some of the smaller, metro areas that are isolated.”
By Jake Flatley