Ohio Unemployment Up, West Virginia Down

Photo by Casey Junkins A contractor applies The Health Plan’s logo to the Main Street side of the company’s new headquarters under construction in downtown Wheeling.

Even before The Health Plan relocates about 400 employees from St. Clairsville to Wheeling, West Virginia’s unemployment rate is lower than it was at this time last year, while Ohio’s jobless number is higher than it was in August 2016.

Nevertheless, leaders in both states believe the potential PTT Global Chemical ethane cracker at Dilles Bottom would be an Upper Ohio Valley economic engine for generations, while they also believe health care and high-tech jobs will be among the most viable career options in years to come.

“I have had several conversations with officials from JobsOhio in which I’ve emphasized how downtown Wheeling is perfectly situated to be the corporate hub of the region’s energy-based economy. No other downtown in the area has the density of banks, law firms, accountants, and supporting businesses as we do,” Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott said.

If the cracker plant develops, it would generate thousands of temporary construction jobs, hundreds of full-time jobs, and a yet-to-be-determined number of jobs that would result because of its presence.

According to WorkForce West Virginia, Ohio County’s unemployment rate is now 5 percent. That is lower than both the statewide averages for both West Virginia and Ohio, but county Commissioner Orphy Klempa said more is needed.

“I am glad we are doing better than the state, but it has to be better. We have to attract employers who pay living wages,” Klempa said. “We have to do a better job educating and training the work force.”

Klempa said the Upper Ohio Valley’s aging population means that health care will be one of the more vibrant careers in the area. Wheeling Vice Mayor Chad Thalman said the city is positioned for success because of its geographic location, in addition to a relatively low crime rate and low cost of living.

“We need to have a mix of industrial and high-tech jobs if we are going to remain competitive in the 21st century,” Elliott added. “We need to be a place known for making things and generating ideas through research.”

“In my mind, I would suggest that our youth get educated in science, technology, biology, engineering and/or health care. There are also many jobs that will be available in the trades’ industry and I strongly encourage our youth to seek a career there, too,” Belmont County Commissioner Mark Thomas said.

Soon, The Health Plan will relocate its headquarters, along with about 400 employees, from St. Clairsville to downtown Wheeling. Belmont County’s unemployment rate is now 6.1 percent, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

“I believe the overall economic outlook for the county is positive,” Belmont County Commissioner J.P. Dutton said. “We want to make the county a friendly place to do business.”

Dutton agrees with Elliott about the possible ethane cracker, adding that it “will have reverberations well beyond Dilles Bottom.”

Directly across the Ohio River from the potential petrochemical plant is Marshall County, which now has a 5.9 percent unemployment rate, which is down from 7.2 percent at this time last year. Wetzel County’s jobless number is now 7.1 percent, while Tyler’s is 6.8 percent.

To the north, Brooke County’s unemployment rate is now 6.2 percent, as is Hancock County’s.

In Ohio, Monroe County now features the state’s second highest rate of unemployed workers at 7.9 percent. In Harrison County, 6.1 percent of those looking for work are unsuccessful, while the number is 7 percent in Jefferson County.

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