Challenges Still Ahead for W.Va.

Presentation of the 2013 West Virginia Economic Outlook last week in Charleston included several points worthy of serious discussion. But one thing was clear: Despite taking punch after punch in 2012, the state continues to make important strides toward recovering from the national economic recession.

In fact, the outlook found that by January of this year, West Virginia had come back to within 400 jobs of its pre-recession employment level. Mining employment may have plummeted, with the value of the state’s mining output expected to fall through 2017, but other sectors are picking up some of the slack.

Construction, health care, retail, and leisure and hospitality are all expected to make significant contributions to the state’s economy in the coming year.

Though blows from Mother Nature will end up costing West Virginia approximately $370 million, according to regulatory filings and government estimates, the community spirit of many hard-hit areas helped overcome part of the damage.

Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond President Jeffrey Lacker was among the speakers at the conference. But in offering a more national perspective on the outlook for our economy, he provided some sobering reminders.

“Until a fiscal plan is adopted that is sustainable over the longer run, consumers and businesses will make decisions under a cloud of uncertainty,” he said.

Lacker also said that unless President Barack Obama can come to an agreement with Congress that avoids the “fiscal cliff,” the U.S. economy will shrink for one or two quarters of the coming year.

West Virginia’s business leaders, politicians, labor unions and workers know they have been doing a whole lot right in 2012. In many cases, they have stayed a step ahead of national economic indicators. The coming year will surely bring new challenges, in addition to those familiar to this state for generations, that will require the same mix of common sense and innovation – and, if we are to move forward, overcoming some of the barriers to growth that have hampered our state for decades.