Economic Development in the Mountain State

Back in 1950, the population of West Virginia was reported to be just a hair over two million, while the population of North Carolina came in at approximately four million. In 2022, North Carolina’s population was nearly 10.5 million while West Virginia’s had dropped to 1.79 million.

Most of us already knew the Mountain State lost population for more than a half century. West Virginians have often complained that young people leave for places such as the Tar Heel state as well as the Palmetto state of South Carolina. Those young people left for economic opportunities which weren’t plentiful in their home state. This left a disproportionate percentage of older residents and therefore, deaths outpaced births, which added to the population trend.

The day before Thanksgiving in 2015, I was driving I-77 from Charlotte to Ravenswood, WV. I was stunned at how many license plates I saw from the Carolinas going northbound on the turnpike, and then realized; these are West Virginia natives going home for the holiday. I had heard the term “Hillbilly Highway” but didn’t understand it until that day.  Seeing those tags very simply explained the economic trend in West Virginia compared to the Carolinas.

Now, I’m not from the Mountain State. I hail from Northern Virginia, which is part of greater Washington, DC, an area of six million residents. When I moved from Fairfax County in 2002, the median household income difference with Jackson County, WV was approximately $70,000 a year! On the flip side, the cost of homes was much more affordable in Jackson County. I say all of this just to give some perspective. It’s not intended to sound negative toward West Virginia.

Having said that, I now see optimism! We’re seeing economic growth here! In the last few years, many manufacturers and other businesses have either relocated to, expanded into or simply launched operations here. Admittedly, Morgantown has long been in a bit of bubble compared to the rural areas, but nonetheless, here are just a few of the companies investing in West Virginia.

Nucor near Point Pleasant, Berkshire Hathaway Renewables in Jackson County, Green Power in South Charleston, Pure Watercraft in Brooke County, Proctor and Gamble in the Eastern Panhandle, Mountaintop Bottling here in Morgantown and even Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ expansion in Bridgeport, are all incredible economic shots in the arm! There’s an outdoor sports complex in Institute with an indoor facility planned for downtown Charleston. Mylan Park and Westridge in our area have big plans which will attract people and events.

Although our population isn’t technically growing yet, there’s a positive trend of residents relocating here. During Covid and the civil unrest in 2020 – 2021, remote workers started coming here to escape large metro areas. Ascend WV was launched and has provided incentives to some of these workers. Many of the workers of the aforementioned employers, are earning good salaries and are spending which drives the economy. As our economy strengthens, the housing market will strengthen as well. A good economy is what we need for our residents to achieve the American Dream of home ownership!

Brian McCommon, 2024 MBOR President