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Justice thankful for job growth (The Weirton Daily Times)

11/26/2019

CHARLESTON — With Thanksgiving just around the corner, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice expressed his gratitude Monday for employment numbers returning to pre-Great Recession levels.

Justice and West Virginia Chamber of Commerce President Steve Roberts announced Monday that the state’s total employment for October 2019 was 763,000, a net gain of 19,000 jobs from October 2018. It’s the first time the state has seen employment numbers that high since January 2009.

“The gains are diversified across all over all kinds of different things … everything from high tech to tourism and on and on and on,” Justice said. “We really genuinely decided to invest dollars to invest in order to bring things and make things happen within West Virginia, and they have happened.”

According to WorkForce West Virginia, the state has an unemployment rate of 4.8 percent, which is up slightly from 4.6 percent in August. The total number of unemployed was 38,100 — an increase of 900. Total unemployment was down 2,100 over the last 10 months.

Roberts said the state’s total civilian labor force was 801,000, the first time the civilian labor force has been above 800,000 since March 2013.

“We think these new jobs are the result of a strong national economy and very good policies in West Virginia that have encouraged job creation and additional investment in our state,” Roberts said. “We are on track for the best year — 2019 to be specific — since 2008. We could end the year with average annual employment in the range of 716,000 jobs. If this jobs trend continues, we could be at an all-time jobs high by late next year.”

The goods-producing sector saw a 500-job decline in October due to a 600-job decline in construction jobs but a 100-job increase in manufacturing jobs. The service-producing sector saw an increase of 1,300 jobs, divided up by 700 jobs in professional and business services; 400 in trade, transportation, and utilities; 100 in education and health services; and 100 in leisure and hospitality.

Over the last 12 months, total non-farm payroll employment saw a 3,200 increase, led by 1,700 in the education and health services sector; 1,400 in the leisure and hospitality sector; and 1,300 in the trade, transportation and utilities sector.

Justice attributed the job growth to efforts by the West Virginia Legislature to pass tort reform, removal of cumbersome and outdated regulations, increased investment in the Division of Tourism and improvement in the U.S. economy under President Donald Trump.

“It’s working. We ought to be celebrating this and running up and down the streets. It’s working,” Justice said. “You have got so many creative things that are happening right here in West Virginia.”

On the flipside, West Virginia lost 3,100 in total non-farm payroll employment, including 1,000 in professional and business services, 1,000 in the “other” category, 600 in information and 500 in mining and logging. The mining industry has been in a slump due to competition from less expensive natural gas for power generation and decreased overseas demand for metallurgical coal use in steel manufacturing. Last month, Murray Energy, one of the nation’s largest coal companies, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

“This jobs news is particularly significant, I think, because it comes in the face of some significant headwinds,” Roberts said. “Those headwinds include that we’ve had drops in our levels of employment from coal mining.”

“We’ve gotten back to those historic numbers with coal being in the dumps,” Justice said. “There’s no way you could’ve gotten back there, but we have. … We’ve still got (coal), but it’s absolutely sputtering. We’re back winning without our superstar.”

West Virginia’s labor force participation rate — the percentage of workers age 16-64 who are either working or seeking employment — continues to be the lowest in the nation at 55.3 percent as of October. The rate is coming up when compared to the October 2018 labor force participation rate of 53.9 percent.

Justice and Roberts believe employment numbers will continue to increase thanks to new job training programs. Senate Bill 1 created the West Virginia Invests grant program, which pays the remainder of the cost of a two-year community and technical college degree for certain programs. The Jobs and Hope program helps rehabilitate drug use victims and provides job training.

"We have people in West Virginia who are unemployed, who may not have the skills or who may live in the wrong place or who may not have transportation to get to work. Those are things that a team, such as the team of people in this room, can work together on to help figure out,” Roberts said. “,We want to get the word out that if you’re out of state and you have skills, come here, we need you.”

Steven Allen Adams can be contacted at sadams@newsandsentinel.com

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