Population: West Virginia must reverse declining numbers

Mountain State officials have quite a challenge ahead as they must look for ways to stop the bleeding when it comes to our population numbers. Again this year — from July 1, 2017 to July 1, 2018 — the state lost a significant number of residents. There are 11,216 fewer West Virginians than there were in the summer or 2017. And that is simply the latest decline in a long series. The year before, West Virginia lost 12,780. It is one of only two states (Michigan is the other) to have lost population over the last decade.

John Deskins, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at West Virginia University, calls it a “long-running trend,” “nothing new.”

The problem is two-fold: more people are dying here than are being born; and there are significantly more people choosing to leave the state than choosing to move here. It is often those who are the best potential members of a workforce who are forced to leave. That creates a third problem, which feeds the cycle.

“Population growth is a part of making the state attractive to potential businesses,” Deskins told another news outlet. “If you see an area of population decline, is a business going to come there? A business has to be confident it’s going to find the workers it needs before it locates in an area.

In addition to looking for legislative means to make the state more attractive to employers, lawmakers must take seriously the need to tackle the challenge of population loss.

“We have to have positive net migration even just to stay even because of the natural population decline,” Deskins said.

Some incentives do exist of course, but could there be others? What challenges must be overcome? Might it be OK to convince some of those employers to bring part of their workforce with them (and help them put down roots), before they grow with workers already available in West Virginia?

It is a piece of the puzzle that must be considered as part of the solution to nearly every challenge the Mountain State faces.

There are plenty of West Virginians at heart who are here right now, having come home for the holidays. Let’s ask them what it would take to get them to come back. Maybe the answers are simpler than we imagine. But they are answers we MUST find.