Inflation, workforce participation headlines West Virginia Economic Outlook Conference MetroNews

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A broad array of professionals from lawyers to accountants were on-hand in Charleston Wednesday for an opportunity to receive an outlook on the state of West Virginia’s economy and how to improve it.

The 29th annual West Virginia Economic Outlook Conference was held at the Embassy Suites hosted by the West Virginia University Bureau of Business and Economic Research.

“The conference is designed around providing rigorous data and analysts to help people understand the West Virginia economy and to encourage discussion around what we can do to overcome challenges and to better capitalize our opportunities,” WVU Bureau of Business and Economic Research Director John Deskins told MetroNews on Wednesday.

WVU Bureau of Business and Economic Research Director John Deskins speaking during a previous conference.
Photo by WVU

Several highlights thoroughly discussed included the current inflation crisis leading to a possible recession and West Virginia workforce participation figures. He said economic leaders around the state believe the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is behind the business world.

Deskins said it’s an uncertain time for the economy because of the continued inflation of products.

“Right now inflation is very high and the federal reserve is having to raise interest rates aggressively to combat that inflation. If the fed raises rates too much, it has the potential to put us into a national recession and that may create a recession in West Virginia as well,” Deskins said.

According to the WVU Bureau of Business and Economic Research economic outlook for 2022-26, only 55 percent of West Virginia’s adult population is either working or looking for work. Though an improvement from recent years, this remains the lowest rate of labor force participation among all 50 states and represents a major obstacle to future economic prosperity.

The state’s unemployment rate surged to nearly 16 percent in April 2020, but has fallen sharply in the months since then, recently falling below five percent for the first time since late-2019, the data showed.

Deskins said there is no silver bullet to solve these figures on workforce participation and those numbers put the state in a tough spot to sell it to businesses.

Deskins said there are good things happening in West Virginia with attracting business and used Nucor coming to Mason County as an example. He said oftentimes those projects are too concentrated in areas.

“We have some counties that thrive, doing well, growing and attracting businesses. Then we have other counties that are stagnant where not much change is taking place. one of our focuses has to be on keeping the good things going but broadening that prosperity out geographically,” Deskins said.

The 2022-26 outlook was written by the Bureau of Business & Economic Research:

Brian Lego Lead Author and Research Assistant Professor
John Deskins, PhD Director and Associate Professor of Economics
Eric Bowen, PhD Research Assistant Professor
Christiadi, PhD Research Associate, Demographer
Dallas Mullett Program Coordinator

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