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Advantage West Virginia: workforce in the Mountain State

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BLUEFIELD, W.Va (WVVA) - WVVA is helping to answer your questions about small business. The Executive Director of the Development Authority of Mercer County, John O'Neal, is helping answer questions.

This week we continue our new series for small business entitled "Advantage West Virginia."

O'Neal: We previously have discussed affordability and business climate, two areas in which our state compares very favorably with our surrounding states, and the rest of the nation.

This week we will consider workforce. When considering workforce needs, analysts often divide employees into categories based on educational attainment. For example, those with college degrees, and those without. Fortunately, West Virginia has many high quality employment opportunities in both categories.

There are many good paying jobs in the manufacturing and trades fields that do not require a college degree. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, West Virginia is number one in the nation for employment stability in the manufacturing sector, and better than average in all other sectors. This means that our employees have a very low turnover rate, which is great news for current and future employers.

In the past West Virginia was well below average in college degree attainment. This has been changing. In 2019 the West Virginia legislature established the West Virginia Invests financial aid program, which covers tuition and fees for certain certificate and associate degree programs that are in designated high-demand fields.

When combined with the Promise Scholarship, this represents a significant investment in education and training for West Virginia residents. The results have been very promising, with educational degree attainment increasing at about One percent per year.

WVVA: John, that is great news regarding the stability of manufacturing jobs, and the improvement in educational attainment, but does West Virginia have the jobs available to keep people here once they are trained?

O'Neal: It doesn't do much good to invest loads of money in training programs and educational degrees if we have no jobs for graduates. Fortunately, there is good news regarding employment.

Prior to the government imposed lockdowns during the early stages of the COVID-19 Pandemic last spring, West Virginia's economy was thriving. employment, economic growth, and consumer sales were at record levels. Then came the lock downs.

At the worst of the lockdown, West Virginia's unemployment rate skyrocketed to 16%. The economy contracted, and consumer sales came to a standstill. Today, West Virginia's recovery is nearly complete.

The unemployment rate at the end of October has plummeted to 6.4%, down two full points from the previous month. The number of West Virginians seeking unemployment benefits has plunged from 125,000 last spring, to 48,000 last month, a huge improvement.

Governor Jim Justice indicated Wednesday that lessons were learned, and that he will not impose another business lockdown by executive orders. He will continue to encourage West Virginians to wear masks, and practice distancing.

This is good news for business and workers in our state. It seems that the West Virginia Recovery will continue in full force. Viewers can get additional information on training and educational assistance here.

Viewers can tune in every Wednesday at 5 p.m. for this new series, 'Advantage West Virginia.'

Melinda Zosh

Evening Anchor and Producer

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