West Virginia Economic Overview
Home to rich coal reserves, West Virginia is among the nation’s leading producers of bituminous coal. Farming is limited due to the mountainous terrain that covers most of the state. Apples, peaches, hay, corn, and tobacco are the principal crops, but broiler chickens, cattle, and dairy products generate the most agricultural revenue.
Glass, chemical, and high-tech industries are concentrated in the Ohio and Kanawha river valleys and in the "High Technology Corridor" along Interstate 79. Other manufactures include primary and fabricated metals and machinery. About two thirds of West Virginia is covered by forest, which supplies the lumber industry with valuable hardwoods. Since the 1960s a number of federal offices and facilities have been established in West Virginia, and government service is a growing employment sector. West Virginia's gross state product is $61.7 billion and average per capita income is roughly $31,000.
Explorers and fur traders settled the area of West Virginia in the late 17th century. By 1726, settlers began filtering into the Shenandoah Valley, and by the 1740s, the eastern panhandle supported blacksmithing and grist milling industries, as well as an iron furnace that produced pig iron. Population growth and prosperity increased with the opening of the Mississippi River with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Its tributary, the Ohio River, flowed through West Virginia and was a primary migration route during the westward development of the early United States.
In 1818 the expansion and improvement of river commerce was complemented by the opening of the National Road at Wheeling. In 1872, when the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway began service across the state to Huntington on the Ohio River, the New River Coal Field became commercially accessible. The availability of bituminous coal stimulated industry in the state and fueled much of the Industrial Revolution in the U.S., as well as the growing international steamship commerce.
After the Civil War, the railroads were used to transport coal to expanding U.S. and export markets. West Virginia limestone supported a quarry industry, which was used for agricultural and construction purposes. During World War I, West Virginia's chemical industry was founded.
The Great Depression hit West Virginia especially hard. The Appalachian region was already economically depressed due to the concentration on extractive industries such as coal mining, oil and gas production, and lumbering. The Depression brought a 40 percent reduction in coal production and other industries, which meant a devastating rise in unemployment.
World War II brought a boom period to the state’s mines and steel mills, and its chemical industry expanded. In the 1970s, West Virginia's coal-based economy profited as energy prices rose, but in the 1980s prices declined and employment in the mines suffered, as the state entered one of the worst economic periods in its history. The economy began to recover in 1990 due to foreign investment and an expanding tourist industry.
Livestock products dominate West Virginia’s agricultural industry, and the leading products are broilers, cattle and calves, chicken, eggs, and dairy products. Other livestock include turkeys, sheep and lambs, and hogs. The top crop is hay, grown as feed for livestock. Other crops are apples, corn for grain, soybeans, and tobacco. More than 23,000 farms each generate about $3 million in annual revenues, for an annual total market value of nearly $600 million a year. This includes $421 million in livestock revenue, $108 million in crops sales, and $62 million in forest products. The aquaculture sector generates $3.4 million, including $800,000 in trout sales.
BANKING AND FINANCIAL SERVICES
The banking industry supports annual salaries of some $300 million to employees of state and national banks in West Virginia. Annual revenue from 140 credit intermediation businesses and related activities amounts to some $5.3 million. More than 60 firms working in securities and commodity contracts intermediation, brokerage, and investment banking generate about $29 million in annual revenue.
West Virginia’s communications industry generates revenue of about $16 million and employs more than 10,000 workers. This includes 260 publishing establishments that bring in revenue of around $4.6 million and 66 broadcasting firms contributing nearly $2.7 million. Also included are 125 telecommunications businesses generating annual revenue of some $4.2 million and 140 data processing, hosting, and related services that account for annual revenue of about $2.3 million. In addition, there are 180 other information services contributing almost $4 million to the state economy.
The West Virginia construction industry supports about 66,000 jobs through direct and indirect outlays on nonresidential building. The industry (residential plus nonresidential) directly employs about 35,000 workers. The yearly value of nonresidential construction spending is approximately $3.2 billion, which contributes some $6.2 billion to the gross state product. Annual payroll of all construction workers is about $1.4 billion. Of the construction firms in West Virginia, the majority (about 5,000) are small businesses with fewer than 20 employees.
West Virginia’s public educational system includes more than 280,000 pupils enrolled in 820 public schools and 130 private schools. Public school expenditures are about $7,400 per student annually, with a student teacher ratio of 12:1. Public school teachers in the state earn an average annual salary of about $50,000, out of total public school expenditure of some $1.8 billion. There are two four-year public universities, five private colleges, and 11 community and/or technical colleges in West Virginia. The state expends some $580 million on higher education. The nearly 180,000 workers employed in the education industry comprise an annual payroll of nearly $8.8 billion.
Coal-fired plants account for nearly all of the electricity generated in West Virginia. West Virginia exports more electricity than any other state, most of which is produced from coal. There are six major coal mines and one petroleum refinery in the state. Together they power five non-nuclear electricity-generating plants. West Virginia ranks second in the nation in the interstate sale of electricity. Annual revenue created by the electricity sector is $1.9 billion.
More than 40 movie productions a year are filmed in West Virginia, attracted by state incentives which translate into year-round employment for hundreds of residents. There are about 130 motion picture and sound recording businesses that are responsible for about $2.2 million in annual revenue, with motion picture and video companies reporting revenue of just over $1 million, and sound recording firms that bring in $1.2 million. There are nearly 190 performing arts companies that generate revenue of more than $2.7 million.
West Virginia is home to more than 1,200 insurance agencies and brokerages, generating annual revenue of $50.2 million. There are approximately 12,400 insurance carriers responsible for an annual payroll of $451 million. About $2.7 billion worth of direct premiums in the property and casualty sector are written each year. Premiums written by life and health insurance firms are about $3 billion, claims payments reach close to $1.6 billion, and benefit payouts reach nearly $1.9 billion.
Other activities related to the insurance industry generate about $14.2 million from 560 establishments. The three largest writers of commercial property/casualty insurance are Brickstreet Mutual Insurance Co. ($424 million), Travelers Group ($97 million), and American International Group ($74 million).
The top manufactured products in West Virginia are derived from the chemical sector and include such items as adhesives, industrial chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and plastics. Primary metals (such as tin plate, sheet steel, structural steel, and aluminum) take second place, and third is lumber production. Other manufactured products include transportation equipment and stone, clay, and glass products. The 1,400 manufacturing establishments produce an annual output valued at $6.6 billion. Of that revenue, chemicals represent $2.3 billion, primary metal products $800 million, wood products $500 million, fabricated metal $500 million, motor vehicles and parts $400 million, aerospace and other transportation products $400 million, nonmetallic mineral products $300 million, plastics and rubber products $300 million, food products $200 million, and medical equipment and other related products $200 million. The manufacturing industry employs some 56,000 workers and supports an annual payroll of around $3.6 billion.
MINING AND EXTRACTION
West Virginia is the largest coal producer east of the Mississippi River and accounts for one tenth of the coal mined in the U.S. It is the national leader in coal production from underground mines. West Virginia’s recoverable coal reserves are the second largest in the country. Its natural gas production is minimal, and its annual crude oil production accounts for less than one percent of the total national output. The coal-mining industry generates more than $8 billion a year in economic benefits. Annual payroll for all coal miners is some $2 billion. Other minerals produced include crushed stone, sand and gravel, and salt.
West Virginia is home to more than 11,000 nonprofit establishments, and one out of 12 West Virginia residents are employed in the nonprofit industry. Health charities comprise the largest sector in public charities, generating annual revenue of $4.8 billion. Educational public charities, with revenue of $559 million, represent the second largest public charity sector, and human services is third, with $417 million in revenue. Of other nonprofit organizations, state-sponsored workers' compensation reinsurance is the largest, with annual revenue of $646 million, followed by benevolent life insurance associations, with $21 million revenue. West Virginia’s private foundations generate revenue of $132 million.
There are more than 10,000 retail establishments in West Virginia, employing some 142,000 workers and supporting a yearly payroll in excess of $3 billion. The retail industry generates annual retail sales of some $25.7 billion. The largest employment sector, restaurants and bars, employs nearly 51,000 workers and the second largest, department and big box stores, provides jobs for 21,000 employees. Walmart, the largest single retailing presence in West Virginia, employs more than 12,000 West Virginians and supports more than 19,000 supplier jobs through its purchases of $220 million worth of local merchandise and services.
West Virginia’s diverse technology industry is an important source of employment and income. More than half of the technology jobs are in the "High Technology Corridor" along Interstate 79, which is recognized nationally for identity and biometric technologies that contribute $5.5 billion to the state economy. Some of the significant establishments located there are the Department of Defense’s Biometrics Task Force/Biometrics Fusion Center, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division, and the National Science Foundation Center for Identification Technology Research. In the bioscience industry, drugs and pharmaceuticals employ 2,400 workers and support an annual payroll of $162 million.
West Virginia boasts more than 2,400 miles (3,860 km) of railroad track that transport nearly 250 million tons (227 million metric tons) of freight each year. Because of the proximity to river ports and trucking centers, railroads remain a vital component in the state’s transportation system. Of the 127 aviation facilities in the state, Yeager Airport in Charleston is the busiest, handling more than 260,000 passengers annually. The airport supports an annual payroll of $3.4 million. The Port of Huntington/Tri-State, the nation's largest inland port, handles more than 80 million tons of cargo each year, with $5.3 billion worth of coal, petroleum, chemicals, steel, and other bulk products being transported on the waterways. There are 60,500 employees in the state’s transportation industry, which has a $1.7 billion payroll.
TRAVEL AND TOURISM
Tourism plays an important part in West Virginia’s economy. Travel spending by all overnight and day visitors to the state generates more than $4.38 billion, and overnight visitors staying in commercial lodging facilities spend $1.4 billion. This is about one-third of all travel spending in the state. Revenue from day travelers is $2.1 billion, almost one-half of the state’s total travel spending.
The largest portion of visitor spending goes toward gaming and entertainment. West Virginia’s tourism industry directly supports 44,000 jobs with earnings of $912 million. Local and state tax revenues generated by travel spending are about $591 million. Some of the popular tourist locations are the Science and Cultural Center in Charleston, the White Sulphur and Berkeley Springs mineral water spas, and the Winter Place Exhibition Coal Mine in Beckley.
Coal, which generates more than half of the nation’s electricity, is found in 53 of West Virginia's 55 counties. Forty-three counties have reserves of economically minable coal, and coal is mined from 57 different coal seams. The state has some four percent of the nation’s coal reserves. West Virginia leads the nation in underground coal production, and its coal industry is responsible for about 30,000 jobs, including miners, mine contractors, coal preparation plant employees, and mine supply companies. West Virginia’s underground mines produce nearly 100 million tons of coal a year, while its surface mines produce about 70 million tons. The coal industry pays nearly $70 million in property taxes each year. Coal is responsible for more than $3.5 billion of West Virginia’s gross state product.
-World Trade Press