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WVU Economist Talks Economic Outlook In State Tour Stop in Beckley 

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Jessica Lilly
Assistant Dean at WVU Smith Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative Danny Twilley gives a presentation at the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority Economic Outlook Summit.

West Virginia has the lowest rate of labor force participation in the country and the economic challenges are magnified in parts of southern West Virginia.

Only 55% of West Virginia residents work or are looking for work.

That was part of the message from West Virginia University researchers during an economic outlook summit held in Beckley on Thursday.

The group’s economic outlook tour began in October with other stops in Wheeling, Fairmont and Martinsburg.

“One of the biggest challenges we face is low labor force participation, '' said John Deskins, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at WVU. “This is a challenge that we’ve faced for decades.”

Their economic report points to several factors that slow economic growth in the state, including poor health, low education and drug addiction.

“Those issues related to human capital and keeping people out of the workforce, we have to focus on fixing those issues to get people in the workforce again and make West Virginia more attractive to potential businesses,” Deskins said.

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Jessica Lilly
About 90 people attended the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority Economic Outlook Summit on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021 at the Historic Black Knight County Club.

Part of the solution, he added, could be promoting remote work in West Virginia.

Organizations in the state that are helping people re-enter the workforce presented new initiatives that they say are expected to improve health in the region, and also create jobs and help people in recovery.

“One of the things that we are really proud of contributing to is working with Communities of Healing on this recovery-to-work project that is allowing those that are in recovery to have a second chance and to actually enter the workforce,” said Judy Moore, executive director of the West Virginia Hive Network.

The Communities of Healing recovery-to-work program is focused on helping employees create a space that’s recovery friendly. The idea is to address the stigma that surrounds hiring people in recovery. It’s modeled after the culinary program based in Rainelle called Fruits of Labor. The company has years of experience in agriculture and running a restaurant and catering business while working with those in recovery, she said.

The report also pointed out that the economic outlook for the state varies county by county. Some counties in the north central and eastern panhandle are actually expected to gain population that will be workforce-ready in the next few years. Other parts of the state have an aging population.

Deskins also mentioned in the report that the state has never lost as many jobs as quickly as happened in March and April 2020. About 94,000 jobs across the state are expected to return by late next year. The state has already regained about 70,000 jobs.

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