West Virginia leads nation in GDP growth for most recent period

Published: Jul. 25, 2019 at 8:59 PM EDT
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The U.S. Department of Commerce announced that West Virginia topped the nation in growth of gross domestic product for the first quarter of 2019.

West Virginia’s nation leading percent change from the last few months of 2018 to the first few months of 2019 was 5.2 percent.

Gross domestic product is the total monetary or market value of all the finished goods and services produced within a specific time period.

So changes from period to period can be subject to fluctuation. Percent change depends on the economic conditions of the prior period up against the current conditions.

Nevertheless, the snapshot of growth is welcome compared to the economic doldrums West Virginia faced just a few years ago.

“If you look at where the state’s growth is now compared to say 2016 it’s certainly a much better position to be in,” said Brian Lego with West Virginia University’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research.

“Leading the nation in a particular quarter isn’t as important as that we’ve crawled out of the hole the state was in.”

The U.S. Department of Commerce noted that mining for the nation increased 26.5 percent, after increasing 38.0 percent in the fourth quarter.

The mining industry was the leading contributor to growth in several states, including the three fastest growing states of West Virginia, Texas, and New Mexico.

The mining category includes not only coal but also natural gas.

West Virginia has benefited from recent growth in coal exports as well as natural gas activity, driven by the construction of major pipelines across the state.

Lego warned those sectors can represent volatile economic activity.

“These construction projects don’t go on in perpetuity. They taper and then they end,” he said. “What happens once that phase comes to an end? That’s the real important question beyond the next year, maybe two. You need more to pick up the slack.”

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross sent out congratulations to West Virginia on social media.

West Virginia also led the nation in personal income growth for the 1st Quarter of 2019, with a 5.6 percent growth rate.

That report said construction was the leading contributor to the earnings increase in West Virginia.

West Virginia's gross domestic product for all of 2018 was $77.48 billion, which represented 39th in the country.

West Virginia made headlines in 2017 with first quarter GDP growth of 3 percent.

That ranked second in the country for the period, behind Texas.

The trend prompted The Hill to describe "How West Virginia got to 3 percent GDP growth."

That look concluded that West Virginia's economy was bolstered by a global infrastructure boom, the rising price of natural gas and finally leaving recession behind.

Lego, the economist from WVU, said the biggest part of West Virginia's growth has come from a few counties, including the Eastern Panhandle in the D.C. metropolitan area and the natural gas hotbed that includes northcentral West Virginia and counties like Doddridge, Wetzel and Marshall.

"It's about seven counties that are really accounting for the growth. The other 48 aren't declining. But the ones that are growing in the balance of the state aren't growing in a strong pace," Lego said.

The risk — not necessarily the reality — is that such growth might lag without greater economic diversification, he said.

"That stuff is going to peel off at some point, and if nothing else is there to fill that void we could be in for some dicey conditions over the next several years," he said.

"The thing we have long emphasized is the ephemeral nature of all this energy infrastructure development."