Big Picture: W.Va.’s economy is too concentrated

John Deskins, director of West Virginia University’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, isn’t trying to rain on anyone’s parade when he points out some of the facts about our state’s economy that do not make it into the politicians’ speeches. But he deals with data, not smoke and mirrors, and it is important for at least some of those policy makers to be paying attention.

Yes, revenue collections continue to come in over estimates. Yes, our economy is growing (slowly). And yes, the jobs numbers look good, and personal income growth was best in the nation for 4Q 2018 and 1Q 2019.

As Deskins told another media outlet, “Overall we have a lot of good things happening.”

But this is a case of the big picture not telling the whole story.

For the most part, those good things are happening in just seven of West Virginia’s 55 counties — Berkeley, Monongalia, Harrison, Marshall, Jackson, Lewis and Raleigh. Narrowing the picture further, it is happening in just a very few industries — mainly coal, natural gas and pipeline construction.

” … the shortcoming is the growth is just too concentrated,” Deskins said, according to a report by WVNews.

Meanwhile, workforce participation is still lower here in the Mountain State than anywhere else in the country.

“Just think about this: Compared to the nation, we have [an additional] 9 percent of our adult population sitting on the sideline and not engaged in the labor force. That’s a big deal. We can’t hope to have the economic prosperity that we hope for if we have 9 percent of our adult population sitting on the sidelines,” Deskins said.

Failure to move away from the extraction industries of the past and diversify our economy is a concern shared by both Deskins and Deputy Revenue Secretary Mark Muchow, who has warned lawmakers over and over that the boom in the natural gas industry will diminish significantly once current projects are completed in the next year or two.

“We’ve got to get growth in some of the other parts of our economy, because it is way too concentrated,” Deskins said.

Politicians and bureaucrats who think there is no need to do some real work for West Virginia’s economy, because the old standby seems to be pumping up the numbers temporarily, are doing an enormous disservice to the majority of Mountain State residents. Many of those people feel left behind — and have been struggling for many years. They wait while those in a position to facilitate change see prosperity for a few is bolstering the soundbite-worthy numbers for a while, and say “that’s good enough.”

It is not. And voters in the other 48 counties are sure to let them know it.