The West Virginia Economic Outlook is presented to lawmakers each year on the first day of the session. Compiled by economists at the WVU Bureau for Business and Economic Research, in 2017 they say overall, West Virginia’s economy is starting to improve.
In the energy sector, BBER Director John Deskins said price and production totals in the coal industry bottomed out last year and are starting to rebound.
He pointed to increased international demand, rising natural gas prices and a changing regulatory environment as reason for an incremental increase in production.
But there’s still work to be done Deskins said, especially in terms of job creation. West Virginia has lost 20,000 jobs since 2012 and over the next five years, he predicts the annual job growth rate will be 0.6 percent.
“Even though I’m pretty confident the recession has ended, even though I’m pretty confident we’re growing again, the job growth rate we expect isn’t anything to brag about; 0.6 percent is still a weak rate of job growth.," Deskins said.
"So, we should still take away a sense of urgency. Even though we’re growing again, even with the darkest days behind us, we still need to make some positive changes to get that job growth rate faster in West Virginia.”
While there are some areas of improvement in the report, Deskins said he does not expect the state budget to improve in the near future.
Lawmakers could be facing a budget gap as large as $600 million next year and Deskins said it’s time to look at restructuring state government, especially at the city and county levels, to consolidate services and save money.