WHEELING - As West Virginia's unemployment rate jumps to 6.9 percent, some Mountain State residents believe a hiring boom in the oil and natural gas drilling industry is just around the corner.
However, information from WorkForce West Virginia shows the Marcellus and Utica shale drilling industry has not created much direct employment over the past two years.
"We've not seen much change in employment in the oil and gas industry over the past year. Employment in oil and gas in 2010 was 2,244, dropping slightly to 2,179 in 2011," said WorkForce spokeswoman Courtney Sisk.
The presence of the drilling industry does lead to increased employment in certain areas, as restaurant and hotel owners report being very busy these days because of drillers working in the area. There are also companies that supply materials to the drilling industry that may hire more employees to meet these needs, while retailers may also see an upswing in some business because of mineral owners receiving spending money from lease and royalty checks.
However, the WorkForce statistics show that the number of West Virginia residents working directly for gas and oil drillers has not increased over the past two years, despite a continued upswing in drilling and fracking.
Gas industry jobs paying nearly $30 per hour are on the way to Marshall County soon, as Dominion Resources will look to hire 40-45 full-time, permanent workers for the natural gas processing plant set to open in December. There will be positions for electricians, plant operators and loaders.
In all employment sectors combined, the number of jobless West Virginians residents rose by 1,900 in May to 55,600. There are 1,400 fewer people working in the mining and logging industries, while there are 400 fewer people employed in the manufacturing sector. West Virginia's unemployment rate was 6.7 percent in April.
On the positive side, there are 400 more people working in the financial industry with another 100 more working in government. West Virginia's unemployment rate is still more than one point better than the 8.2 percent national average.
In addition to serving as a Republican member of West Virginia's House of Delegates from Ohio County, Erikka Storch is also the chief financial officer for Wheeling-based Ohio Valley Steel. She said her company is not seeing much business growth right now, which hinders her ability to hire workers.
"The level of construction is down," she said. "I can only keep so many people at levels like this."
Storch said the company now has 26 employees, noting the optimal number should be in the range of 35 with a few more out in the field as ironworkers.
"There are some out-of-area companies opening up sub-offices around here," she said. "These offices are hiring some employees, but they are mostly just taking local workers from one job to another job. These are employment shifts, rather than unemployed people getting jobs."
"I am not seeing the private sector spending money like it usually does," Storch added.