MARIETTA - According to a survey of nationwide financial experts, the U.S. economy could be in the midst of its worst stretch since the end of World War II in terms of employment.
But local experts don't buy the analysis that unemployment will remain above 6 percent for four more years.
"Do I think that's correct? Not for Washington County," said Terry Tamburini, executive director of the Southeastern Ohio Port Authority.
A survey of 32 private, corporate and academic economists by The Associated Press found that 55 percent believe it will take until at least 2016 for the economy to recover. Another 31 percent of the economists say it will be 2015 for unemployment to dip below 6 percent, the highest level considered healthy for the economy.
If that's correct, it will be the longest time frame of high unemployment since the end of the second world war, the AP said.
Marietta College professor Debbie Lazorik, who works with students on internships, said the November election will have some bearing on future unemployment, but believes it could be some time before the economy recovers.
"If we've had a tough economy in terms of the unemployment, that's just not going to turn around in six or eight months," Lazorik said.
Nationally, unemployment is at a rate of 8.2 percent according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Washington County ranks 34th out of the 88 counties in Ohio with an unemployment rate of 6.9 percent.
Morgan County has the fourth worst unemployment rate at 10.4 percent while Noble County is at 9.9 percent and Monroe County is at 8.4 percent.
Wood County, W.Va., has an unemployment rate of 7.1 percent, tied for 18th best in the state.
While the national unemployment level could feasibly remain high, area business officials pointed to projected booms in the oil and gas industry as well as small business growth to offset the market.
"I think ours will sink lower or toward the 6 percent figure and be better than the state of Ohio, and certainly better than the national rate," Tamburini said.
As confident as local financial experts are about the possibility for employment, area residents don't entirely share the optimism.
"It seems like businesses are always closing due to people not buying as much," said Michelle Miller, 27, of Lower Salem.
Belpre resident Matt Morrison, 32, said the unemployment rate locally will likely always be lower than the national average.
That doesn't, however, mean there are more jobs.
"The nice thing about the valley is we have good blue collar people down here who don't mind working," Morrison said.
Morrison said the willingness of local residents to take any job available to them could drop the unemployment rate, but he's not sure if it will dip below the 6 percent mark mentioned in the AP survey.
Candy Nelson, a supervisor with the Washington County Department of Job and Family Services, said she believes it is easier now for those seeking jobs to find them than in recent months.
"I think what helps us is we have a lot of small business," Nelson said. "We weren't like up north where when a company shut down it affected a whole area."
Nelson pointed to the oil and gas industry and the process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, as a positive boon for the local economy.
She said she has seen some people make career changes to enter fields related to the industry.
According to the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program, there are 17,440 jobs across the state supported by oil and gas.
Overall, $793 million is generated per year in Ohio salaries and $32.7 million is paid annually in local, state and federal taxes by the industry, OOGEEP says.
The potential to tap further into those resources could substantially alter the job outlook for the Mid-Ohio Valley, Tamburini said.
Even businesses that are not directly related to oil and gas are experiencing small growth, and that is expected to continue, Tamburini said.
"We've done our fair share to create and retain jobs in the Mid-Ohio Valley," he said.
Hino Motors announced in June it would invest $6 million directly and indirectly into its truck manufacturing plant in Williamstown.
Since it opened in 2007, the Hino plant has more than tripled the number of trucks produced each day.
A couple years ago the plant was making just 10 trucks on a daily basis, and that figure currently averages 35 to 37.
"We're pleased with immediate forecasts and continue to monitor future demand very closely," said Sandy Ring, vice president of administration and strategic planning and general counsel for Hino. "We hope it continues, and indeed, grows larger."
As a result of the expansion, which includes $3 million in investments into the Williamstown facility, Hino is one of the area businesses expected to contribute employment growth.
Twenty positions are expected to be added to the company this year.
"We're happy with the work force from the Mid-Ohio Valley," Ring said. "We've added some jobs this summer and we look forward to adding more."
Tamburini said he feels one of the challenges facing local residents as they search for a job is the training.
Several employers, particularly those in the oil and gas field, have positions to fill but potential employees can't be trained quickly enough to fill the void, he said.
The stability of the medical industry including expansion by Marietta Memorial Hospital and a $10.5 million project to provide water service to five businesses on Ohio 7 also figures to impact the local employment picture, Tamburini noted.
"I expect us to be better than the average, and in some cases, significantly better," Tamburini said.
The Associated Press contributed.