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2015 Economic Outlook: Morgantown Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA)

(Version 1/15)
By Donald Reinke, AICP, CEcD
Director, Monongalia County Development Authority
President, Morgantown Area Economic Partnership

The Morgantown Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), which includes both Monongalia and Preston Counties, should continue to post solid growth in jobs, income and population during the next year. All three of these important indicators of  an area’s economic strength have surged in the Morgantown MSA during the last two decades and its unemployment rate has remained low. One of the reasons that the economy of the Morgantown  MSA fared much better than the rest of the country in recent years is that it is heavily weighted toward  higher education  and health care employment which are growing and relatively recession resistant sectors.

The Morgantown MSA Economic Outlook published by the WVU Bureau of Business and Economic Research, has stated that the Morgantown MSA is the “most balanced and dynamic metropolitan economy in the State.”  The 2015 version of the Outlook calls for “continued healthy growth in the Morgantown MSA over the next five years. The 2015 Outlook forecasts average annual growth during this period will be positive for employment (1.4%/year), per capita personal income (2.3%/year), and population (1.0%/year). The Outlook forecasts that job growth is expected to be widespread across all sectors except for financial services. It forecasts a particularly high rate of growth occurring in education and health services, professional and business services, construction,  and consumer oriented services. The complete Morgantown MSA Economic Outlook 2015 report is available for review at the WVU-BBER web site (

As a result of this bullish economic condition in the Morgantown MSA, the area was recently named a “Top 100 Leading Business Location”  by Area Development, a “Best Performing” small metro by the Milken Institute, and a “Best Small Metro for Business and Careers” by Forbes.

Let’s take a closer look at the specific employment sectors that comprise total non-farm payroll employment in the Morgantown MSA. In 2013, the most recent year for which data for the full year is available from Workforce WV, the total 2013 nonfarm employment in the Morgantown MSA increased over the prior year by 2.8 percent to 68,100 workers. Non-farm payroll employment is comprised of three goods producing sectors (these sectors increased over the prior year by 7.1 percent to 9,000 employees), and eight service producing sectors (these sectors increased over the prior year by 2.2 percent to 59,800 employees). The three goods-producing employment sectors include Natural Resources and Mining, Construction, and Manufacturing. The eight service-producing sectors include Trade, Transportation and Utilities; Information, Financial Activities, Professional and Business Services, Education and Health Services,  Leisure and Hospitality, Other Services, Federal Government, State Government, and Local Government.

Of those employment sectors in the region for which comparative data is available, those in which the MSA has a regional “specialization” (i.e., a higher percentage of total employment locally vs. nationally) include Education and Health Services, State Government (due largely to WVU), and Federal Government.  It should be noted that there is a very large number of highly-skilled and well-paying Government and Health Service jobs in the MSA. (FN 1) Obviously, the presence of West Virginia University, two large health care systems, a number of state and federal government research facilities, two Federal Bureau of Prisons correctional facilities, and the Camp Dawson military base contribute greatly to the regional specialization in these types of jobs.

A high level of construction activity will continue during the year for a wide variety of private, public, and institutional projects. Some of the larger commercial, industrial, institutional, and government projects that are either underway or proposed to break ground during the year include the following:

Monongalia County

Preston County:

The economy of the Morgantown MSA has grown significantly in recent years and it is better positioned for growth than any regional economy in the state. Four basic indicators of the economic health of an area include population growth, employment growth, unemployment rate, and income growth. The Morgantown MSA ranks good to excellent on each of these four indicators of economic health (FN 2), particularly relative to the rest of the state. 

The Morgantown MSA enjoys a strong and diversified economy and it offers an excellent quality of life. It often receives national recognition for its many economic and lifestyle attributes (FN 3).  The question is frequently asked, “Why is the Morgantown MSA doing so well?” The primary reason is that Morgantown is home to West Virginia University (WVU) with an enrollment of over 30,000 students and 6,800 faculty and staff.  WVU Hospitals and University Health Associates together employ an additional 6,400 workers. WVU is a large and recession-resistant economic engine for the area. The positive economic impact of having such a large flagship university in the community is further magnified by its recent efforts in regards to technology transfer and commercialization of the  hundreds of millions of dollars in research being conducted at the University, and the development of the WVU Research Park.  Furthermore, the presence of a large university within the community contributes greatly to the local quality of life in terms of excellent health care, the demand for quality public schools, diverse entertainment and cultural events; public transportation; and the availability of a wide variety of goods and services. Therefore, the local residents of a relatively small community benefit significantly from many “big-city amenities” because of the University.

In addition to the presence of WVU, the community has other key attributes that have contributed to its success.  The Morgantown MSA offers the best combination of labor, capital, education, commercialization of research, and quality of life in the State. These are all important factors in being able to attract and retain knowledge based employers and employees. Furthermore, there is a good, community-focused, cooperative working relationship that exists between local governments, WVU, non-profits, and the private sector. This relationship, combined with the many other attributes of the area, has fostered a climate of confidence and accomplishment which, in turn, encourages additional investment in the community by the private, public, and institutional sectors. This positive investment climate has produced some outstanding local civic leaders, entrepreneurs, developers, and philanthropists who are responsible for many of the construction projects outlined above.  

Not to be overlooked are the scenic mountains and river valleys and the diverse and plentiful outdoor recreational opportunities that abound in and around the region. The Greater Morganton Convention and Visitors Bureau captures the essence of the area when it refers to the Morgantown Area as “The Scenic Mountain Home of WVU.”

In summary, the presence of West Virginia University; a skilled and educated labor force; a large health care industry; good public schools; great scenic and natural beauty, outstanding recreational, cultural, and entertainment programs and facilities; and the continued growth of advanced technology industries and government installations along the Interstate 79 and Interstate 68 Corridors, help to ensure a positive future for the area.

During the next year the Morgantown Area Economic Partnership (MAP), the Monongalia County Development Authority (MCDA), and the Preston County Economic Development Authority (PCEDA), will continue to promote and facilitate business retention, attraction, and incubation. The collective goal of MAP, the MCDA, the PCEDA, and their many public and private sector “partners,” is to strengthen and expand the area’s economy, and, in doing so, to help make the Morgantown Metropolitan Area one of the very best places to live and work in the country. For more information on the Morgantown MSA, check out the MAP web site at


( 1 ) In 2013, there were 13,700 Education and Health Services jobs, and 18,400 Government jobs in the Morgantown MSA. Both of these employment sectors paid a significantly higher average annual wage than either the average wage in the Morgantown MSA or the average wage in West Virginia.

( 2 ) The population of the Morgantown MSA grew by 24,933 people, or 22.4 percent, between 2000 (111,200) and 2013 (136,133).

The population of Monongalia County grew by 20,367 people, or 24.8 percent, between 2000 (81,907) and 2013 (102,274).  During that period it was the fastest growing county in the state in both absolute numbers and percentage increases.

Due to population growth between 1990 and 2000, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget designated Monongalia and Preston Counties as the “Morgantown Metropolitan Statistical Area” in 2003. 

Non-farm payroll employment in the Morgantown MSA surged by 31.9 percent or 15,770 workers between 2000 (49,410) and 2010 (65,180). This employment growth rate compares very favorably to comparable rates for WV and the US for the same time period.

The Morgantown MSA consistently had the lowest unemployment rates for a metropolitan area in the State (Averaged 4.4 percent in 2013). 

Per Capita Personal Income in the Morgantown MSA jumped by 50.5 percent or $11,125 between 2000 ($22,029) and 2008 ($33,154). This per capita personal income growth rate compares very favorably to comparable rates for WV and the U.S for the same time period. 

(3) 2014: “Best Places to Retire.” (Money)
#12 overall, “100 Leading Business Locations” in the U.S. (Area Development Magazine.)
#17, Top 25 Places to Retire (Forbes)
# 20, “The 50 Best College Towns in America”  (Best College Reviews)
#12 overall, “100 Leading Locations” in the US  (Area Development Magazine.)

2013: #56 “Smartest City in America” (PolicyMic)
#7 “10 Great Cities That Have It All” (Kiplinger’s)
# 9 “Best Performing” Small Metro (Milken Institute).
#2 “Best Small Metro in the Country for Business and Careers.” (Forbes)
“Best Places for a Working Retirement” (Forbes)

2012: # 2 “Best Performing” Small Metro (Milken Institute).
“100 Leading Business Locations” in the U.S. (Area Development Magazine.)
#7 “Best Small Metro in the Country for Business and Careers.” (Forbes)
“Morgantown – Top College Destination” (American Institute. For Economic Research)
“Best Places to Retire for Under $100 a Day.” (AARP)

2011: # 7“Best Performing” Small Metro (Milken Institute).
#1 largest increase in median household income in the nation from 2007 to 2010 (New York Times).

2010: # 2 “Best Metros for Jobs” (
#10 “Best Small Metros for Business and Careers” (Forbes)
#7 “Most Secure Small Metros to Live” (Farmers Insurance)

2009: #7 “Best Small Metro to Launch a Small Business” (Fortune)
#2 “Top College Towns for Jobs” (Forbes).
Morgantown featured in Wall Street Journal Spring 2009 article.
“Best Small City for Business Startups” in West Virginia (Business Week)

2008: #6 of “25 Best Cities to Find a Job” (
One of six "Recession-Proof Economies" (
"Best Walking City in West Virginia,” 34th Best in Country

2007: "5th best Boomtown City in Country” (Inc)
“Adventure Town” (National Geographic Adventure Magazine)

2006: "29th Smartest Place to Live in US” (Kiplinger's).
     "5th Best Place for Business and Careers -Metros less than 150,000 population" (Forbes). 
     "12th Hottest Small City: Boomtown -Metros less than 150,000 population” (Inc).

2005:  “Best Sports Cities in America” (Sporting News).

2004: "3rd Best Small Town in America" (Men's Journal).

2003: City of Morgantown Awarded "Well Workplace Bronze Award” Wellness Councils of America

2002: Morgantown Graded "A" in Economic Development (

2000: Morgantown Selected #1 “Dream Town in Country" (

1999: "Best Small City in the East" and "3rd Best in America" (Guide to Life in America's Small Cities).
Morgantown – “Best Small City in the Country” (, one of the “Best Sport Cities in the Country” (Sporting News). Morgantown MSA - One of the “Best Small Metro Areas for Business and Careers” (Forbes), An Inc. Magazine "Boom Town," A Kiplinger 50 “Smart Place to Live,” One of the Best "Quality of Life" and "Knowledge Worker" Metropolitan Areas in the Country (Expansion Management)