Diversification vital for West Virginia economy

John Deskins, director of West Virginia University’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, isn’t trying to rain on anyone’s parade when he points out some of the facts about our state’s economy that do not make it into the politicians’ speeches.

But he deals with data, not smoke and mirrors, and it is important that at least some of those policymakers pay attention.

Yes, revenue collections continue to come in over estimates.

Yes, our economy is growing (slowly). And yes, the jobs numbers look good, and personal income growth was best in the nation for the fourth quarter of 2018 and the first of this year.

As Deskins told another media outlet, “Overall we have a lot of good things happening.”

But this is a case of the big picture not telling the whole story.

For the most part, those good things are happening in just seven of West Virginia’s 55 counties.Fortunately, one of them, Marshall, is in our region. The others — Berkeley, Monongalia, Harrison, Jackson, Lewis and Raleigh — are not.

Narrowing the picture further, it is happening in just a very few industries — mainly coal, natural gas and pipeline construction.

Growth is “just too concentrated,” Deskins said, according to a report by WVNews.

Failure to move away from the extraction industries of the past and diversify our economy is a concern shared by both Deskins and Deputy Revenue Secretary Mark Muchow, who has warned lawmakers over and over that the boom in the natural gas industry will diminish significantly once current projects are completed in the next year or two.

“We’ve got to get growth in some of the other parts of our economy, because it is way too concentrated,” Deskins said.

Energy-industry prosperity is a good thing for some counties. Clearly, however, diversification needs to be the watchword for policymakers.