CHARLES TOWN – The county needs to speed up permitting and approval processes for new development in order to sustain and accelerate economic growth, which has improved considerably over the last year, according to members of the Jefferson County Development Authority.
[cleeng_content id="449016821" description="Read it now!" price="0.49" t="article"]Executive Director John Reisenweber said Jefferson County is vastly outperforming both the state and the nation in terms of employment. While the national unemployment rate is 7.6 percent, and the statewide rate is 5.9 percent, Jefferson County’s rate is an impressive 3.9 percent – lower than the level that economists generally consider to be full employment.
“Our unemployment rate is the lowest in the state of West Virginia,” he noted, adding much of the improvement has come over the last year. Both the county and the state’s unemployment levels have dropped 1.4 percent in that time.
“It is something that I brag about when I’m out and about,” he said. “I think it is indicative of the quality of folks that we have here and their willingness to step up.”
“Most of your job growth is going to be with your (existing businesses). Those numbers reflect maybe 100 businesses that are each adding one or two people,” he said. “It is going in the right direction.”
Reisenweber said in order to sustain economic development, streamlining regulatory approval processes will be key.
“I have businesses coming to see me all the time,” Reisenweber said. “They’re running up against that process that sometimes is cumbersome.”
“The best thing you can do to help us is to decrease regulation and increase speed of approvals … so when small businesses want to expand it doesn’t take them two years to build their building,” said board member Eric Lewis. “If it is going to take a company a year to get through the approval process, they are going to look somewhere else.”
Reisenweber said it is important to improve this process, given a likely return to more normal levels development, which he predicts seeing in the second half of the year.
“There is a lot of pent-up demand. The site consultants are telling us that they are very busy, which means that we will be getting busy … toward the last couple quarters of the calendar year and into 2014,” he said.
“You’ve had a lot of cash on the sidelines waiting for the economy to turn around. It has turned around a little bit, but there is still a lot of softness,” Reisenweber said. “There are also still a lot of toxic assets on the books of the banks – and I mean the big banks.”
Nonetheless, Reisenweber predicted growth in the manufacturing, health care and service sectors.
Chairman Mark Dyck said he thought the county should take steps to augment growth of residential construction as well.
“One of the things that you see in every community is a balance between the population and the amount of commercial, retail things going on,” Dyck said. “We need to grow our population here in Jefferson County. That is, for me, an absolutely key strategy: rooftops.”
“Not only does the construction industry bring millions and millions of dollars to the residents from purchasing things in our stores and our guys having more jobs,” he said. “Everyone who we talk to as a business prospect is asking, ‘Well, how many people in your county are going to be able to work at my business?’”
David Marshall, a newly-appointed board member and system director for facilities at WVU Hospitals East, said that he expected that the recently approved expansion of the state’s Medicaid program would mean that more individuals would be insured, driving up demand for health care services and, in turn, increasing the number of local health care jobs.
“More people are going to have accessibility to insurance, so it is going to create jobs,” he said.[/cleeng_content]