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Hoppy Kercheval: Policy changes paying dividends for West Virginia's economy


West Virginia is seeing some notable growth in employment and workforce participation.

The state Chamber of Commerce, citing state figures from Workforce West Virginia, said the state has added 19,000 jobs from October 2018 to October 2019. Specifically, 763,000 West Virginians were working last month compared with 744,000 the same month of the previous year.*

Those workforce figures last month represent the best October since 2008, when 776,000 West Virginians were employed. October was also the best of any month since January 2009, when 766,000 West Virginians were on the job.

The October 2019 jobs report shows employment gains in manufacturing, construction, education and health services, while there was a slight decline in mining, logging and retail trade.

Retail trade has been trending downward in West Virginia and across the country as brick-and-mortar stores face increased competition from Internet sales.

The size of the civilian workforce is also growing and that’s positive. The numbers show 801,000 West Virginians were working or looking for work last month.** That is the first time since March 2013 that the number has been above 800,000.

Brian Dayton, West Virginia Chamber of Commerce Vice President of Policy and Advocacy, is encouraged by that number because the state has been plagued by a shortage of workers.

“That’s a good sign,” said Dayton. “That shows people are feeling more confident and are getting back into the workforce.”

Dayton said there are several reasons for the job growth in the state.

First, federal policies are more favorable toward business. “There’s more cooperation between the federal government, rather than an adversarial relationship like we had previously,” he said.

Second, the national economy continues to expand following The Great Recession that lasted from December 2007 until June 2009. The economy here tends to lag behind the national economy. Statistically, West Virginia’s worst year was 2015 when the civilian labor force shrunk to 780,000, with an average of fewer than 730,000 West Virginians working.

Third, Dayton credits changes in state policy, including legal and regulatory reforms and the passage of right-to-work. “We’ve heard from so many companies that if you are not a right-to-work state you are not even on our radar.”

And finally, he believes the gradual reduction of the corporate net income tax, from 9.0 percent to 6.5 percent, and the elimination of the business franchise tax are finally paying dividends. “That definitely made us more competitive with other states said,” Dayton said.

Of course, one’s view of the economy usually depends on personal circumstances. However, these numbers are clearly positive economic indicators for West Virginia.

*(The unemployment rate in October 2019 was 4.8 percent. In October 2018 it was 5.1 percent.)

**(The total civilian workforce is the total of the number of people working added to the number of people actively looking for work.)

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