In today’s struggling economy, jobs are paramount on the minds of families, employers and economists.
While hit by the economy like the rest of the country, West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle seems to have weathered a lot of the storm, and has seen the jobless rates improve in Jefferson, Berkeley and Morgan counties.
George W. Hammond, a noted West Virginia University economist, will speak on jobs and the like at a luncheon focusing on the Eastern Panhandle’s economic outlook Oct. 25 at the Holiday Inn in Martinsburg, W.Va.
Hammond is expected to cover the positive effects on the region’s employment and economy from employers like Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races, the 167th Airlift Wing of the West Virginia Air National Guard, the soon-to-open massive Macy’s online service center, Shepherd University, American Public University in Charles Town and the public schools, among others.
The Panhandle’s jobless rate, although up in recent years, is better than it is in many West Virginia counties.
Jefferson County has the second-lowest jobless rate in the state.
“It’s important to keep in mind that the Eastern Panhandle was dragged down, too,” Hammond said. “The region’s economy will grow, but it was hit hard by the global downturn. There was a significant loss of jobs in 2009, especially in housing construction.”
He said whenever there’s a boom or bust in the housing industry, jobs are lost or gained.
While West Virginia has been struggling for the last 20 years, the Panhandle has enjoyed population and economic growth because of its proximity to the Washington, D.C., area, local economic development officials said.
Employment has been boosted by major federal government institutions that dot the Panhandle. They include the National Conservation Training Center outside Shepherdstown, W.Va., the U.S. Coast Guard Operations Systems Center on the Jefferson/Berkeley county line, the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol training center near Harpers Ferry, W.Va., plus long-standing facilities like Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center and IRS Data Center, both in Martinsburg.
The federal government and the region’s leisure/hospitality industry help keep the Panhandle’s unemployment rate low compared to the rest of the state, Hammond said. The Panhandle’s economy will continue to grow, he said.
Thomas Bayuzik Jr., executive director of the Jefferson County Development Authority, said about half of the county’s work force commutes to federal and private employment jobs in the D.C. area.
Four commuter trains haul them back and forth every day.
Bayuzik said the ongoing downsizing of the federal government will have an impact in Jefferson County.
“We have to expect that,” he said.
He said there is an increase in institutional construction jobs.
“There are still some houses being built, but it’s not a boom,” he said.
Contractors are hiring for construction projects under way at Shepherd University, the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol center and a U.S. State Department facility in Summit Point, W.Va., Bayuzik said.