By CHRISTINE CHMURATIMES-DISPATCH COLUMNIST
As the national economy goes, so go the regions in Virginia. Well, not always.
The latest data for nonmetropolitan areas show that employment in Southwest Virginia grew 1.4 percent last year, compared with 0.9 percent in the state.
The region encompasses the counties of Lee, Wise, Scott, Buchanan, Dickenson, Russell and Tazewell and the city of Norton.
Not only is Southwest Virginia growing at a faster pace than the state, it's growing faster than Northern Virginia, which advanced just 1.0 percent in the same period. In fact, Southwest Virginia has been growing faster than Northern Virginia since the first quarter of 2007.
Part of the growth in the southwestern part of the state has occurred because increased oil prices have caused resurgence in the demand for coal as a fuel source and component of products such as steel.
No surprise, then, that Alpha Natural Resources of Abingdon agreed to be bought by Cleveland-Cliffs, a producer of iron ore. Based on the details of the purchase, it looks like Alpha shareholders will receive a premium of about 30 percent over their shares. That kind of wealth flowing into the region will undoubtedly spur growth in other industries.
Coal mining employs nearly 3,800 workers in Southwest Virginia at an average annual wage of about $61,000, compared with $31,000 for all jobs in the region. But mining, which makes up about 6 percent of total employment in the region, is not the only driver of growth.
Most major sectors in the region are growing, but health care added the most jobs during the past year. A sector called administrative support added almost as many jobs as health care. It includes a variety of industries including telephone call centers and temporary help agencies.
The employment trends in Southwest Virginia run deeper than the occasional but short-lived employment surge that oftentimes sparks rural economies. The most region-changing events in the evolution of the southwest's economy have been the addition of CGI and Northrop Grumman -- two high-tech companies that are adding a significant number of jobs to the region with most at wages much higher than the average.
These economic development successes have not occurred without significant work and foresight on the part of developers and residents in Southwest Virginia. As coal was in decline, they saw the need to diversify and the importance of broadband access. Major funding through grants from the U.S. Department of Congress and the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Revitalization Commission laid the fiber-optic backbone that supported broadband growth there.
Now, as national and state growth have slowed, Southwest Virginia is proving that rural economies can change and thrive.
Christine Chmura is president and chief economist at Chmura Economics & Analytics. She can be reached at (804) 649-3640 or via the website: http://www.chmuraecon.com/
This article was originally published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on July 28, 2008.
We are interested in your comments! Please submit your comment to this posting by completing the form below and clicking the Submit button.
Note: Comments are moderated and do not appear immediately.
Email (will not be shared) (required)
* HTML is not allowed.
Have a question that you would like to see answered in one of our blogs?
The opinions expressed by the bloggers on this site and those providing comments are
theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of Chmura Economics & Analytics
or any employee thereof. Chmura Economics & Analytics is not responsible for
the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the bloggers on this site.