Charleston: Economy

Major Industries and Commercial Activity

The Kanawha Valley owes much of its past and future prosperity to its reputation as a transportation and distribution hub. From river port to interstate hub, the sophisticated transportation routes have lured and kept industry in the region when other parts of West Virginia were troubled with the same economic doldrums that affected much of the nation. Insulated from the boom-or-bust coal industry, the Kanawha Valley has relied on its diversity of natural resources and its importance in the eastern and central states' waterways system, moving goods to the Gulf of Mexico via the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. Three interstate highways converging in downtown Charleston provide the extra transportation links that the rivers cannot provide. Moreover, the highways bring Charleston within 500 miles of more than 50 percent of the nation's major market areas and 50 percent of its entire population.

The valley's market proximity and transportation advantages are responsible for the economic diversity and health of the area. Further, the abundance of natural resources and the residents' ingenuity in using them have established the region as the state's center of finance, retail trade, government, industry, arts and culture, and health care. In recent years, growth in health services and the state banking industry has outpaced that of other sectors.

Since 1929, the chemical industry has been an economic force in the valley, providing a large, stable employment base for many years. Union Carbide Corporation, Monsanto, E. I. du Pont de Nemours, Clearon Corp., and FMC are among the companies with chemical-connected facilities in the Charleston area. Union Carbide also has its headquarters for research and development in the Tech Center complex in South Charleston. Valley residents have been very supportive of the chemical industry, acknowledging that the indus-try's first priority has always been safety. Likewise, local governments have been involved and have participated in safety and emergency planning. Other Kanawha Valley industries include heavy steel fabricating, glass manufacturing, and energy development. Columbia Gas Transmission Corporation, headquartered in Charleston, employs almost one-third of its workforce in the Charleston headquarters.

Today, Charleston enjoys a diverse economy. An abundant and well-educated workforce is employed in thriving chemical, automotive, telecommunications, healthcare, and professional services sectors. Retail trade and tourism are also thriving economic sectors.

Items and goods produced: chemicals, telecommunications products, publishing, mining equipment, fabricated metal products, automobile parts

Incentive Programs — New and Existing Companies

Local programs

The Business and Industrial Development Corporation (BIDCO) is a non-profit economic development corporation serving Metropolitan Charleston. BIDCO offers a range of services to companies considering the area for new or expanded operations. Assistance is offered in worker training and education, financing, site selection, and with buildings. Both professional economic development and engineering services are free and confidential.

State programs

Charleston participates in a state-wide program presided over by the West Virginia Economic Development Authority (WVEDA) that provides low-interest financing for land, building, and equipment. In addition to its direct loan program, WVEDA offers a Capital Access Program and Loan Insurance Program. West Virginia has one of the nation's most liberal tax incentive programs, permitting significant recapture of principal taxes as well as capital investment. Additional credits are available for corporate headquarters relocation, research and development, and veterans employment.

Job training programs

The Governor's Guaranteed Work Force Program provides companies creating at least 10 new jobs $2,000 per employee, or the actual cost of training, whichever is less. Three vocational-technical schools and one adult career center offer industry and occupation-specific courses and degree programs designed to produce graduates who meet the demands of a global marketplace.

Development Projects

The $80 million, 240,000 square foot Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences opened in 2003 and houses a variety of performing and visual arts and science facilities. The Clay Center's Maier Foundation Performance Hall is a 1,883 seat theater; the Walker Theater seats up to 200 people; the Avampato Discovery Museum offers science, art, and theater; the Juliet Museum of Art presents permanent and visiting collections; the ElectricSky Theater offers planetarium and laser shows; and a café and gift shop round out the center's offerings.

As part of a collaboration among the City of Charleston, the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau, and several other organizations, Charleston is making itself more visitor friendly with new, colorful signs pointing out specific destinations, sights, and tourist information spots. The $55,000 project was 8 years in development and began in September 2004. Once finished in 2005, there will be 200 signs pointing visitors to malls, parking, visitor info, and area tourist destinations.

Economic Development Information: BIDCO, 1116 Smith Street, Charleston, WV 25301; telephone (304)340-4253; fax (304)340-4275

Commercial Shipping

The Kanawha Valley's transportation systems may be the region's biggest economic asset, since Charleston is the region's hub for air service, river commerce, and highways. The city is an important distribution center because of its extremely sophisticated transportation routes. Charleston was designated a port of entry by the U.S. Customs Office in 1973, and the business and industrial sectors take advantage of direct shipments from foreign countries. The customs office at Yeager Airport inspects air, barge, rail, and other freight shipments received at locations throughout the region. A fixed-base operator with complete maintenance shop and 24-hour service is located at Yeager.

West Virginia's two railway systems transport chemicals, minerals, ores, primary metals, coal, petroleum, stone, or glass. The state has 3,931 miles of track, most of it linking the Atlantic Coast to the Midwest.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers maintains a navigation channel 200 feet wide and nine feet deep in the Kanawha River—from the mouth at Point Pleasant on the West Virginia-Ohio border to a point 91 miles east at Deepwater, about 40 miles up river from Charleston. Waterborne commerce has tripled on the Kanawha River since the early 1950s. Charleston is served by more than 40 motor freight carriers.

Labor Force and Employment Outlook

Due to the strong manufacturing base of Charleston's economy, the city boasts a workforce that is familiar with the machinery, equipment, and processes involved in technologically complex operations. But as the mining and manufacturing sectors shrink in response to national economic trends, services and retail trade are continuing to show significant growth. The area's extensive transportation network, stable workforce, and diverse economy combine to enable companies in the chemical, automotive, healthcare, telecommunications, and professional services sectors to thrive. Charleston and the surrounding region has seen steady economic growth with total employment increasing 21 percent over the past 10 years. Unemployment in the area is similar to the national average.

The following is a summary of data regarding the Charleston metropolitan area labor force, 2003 annual averages.

Size of nonagricultural labor force: 133,100

Number of workers employed in . . .

construction and mining: 8,800

manufacturing: 7,600

trade, transportation and utilities: 26,500

information: 3,400

financial activities: 8,000

professional and business services: 13,500

education and health services: 18,500

leisure and hospitality: 11,600

other services: 10,400

government: 24,800

Average hourly earnings of production workers employed in manufacturing: $16.05

Unemployment rate: 4.3% (December 2004)

Charleston: Economy

Largest employers Number of employees
State Government 12,400
Charleston Area Medical Center 5,000
Kanawha County Schools 5,000
Federal Government 2,700
Verizon West Virginia 1,500

Cost of Living

The following is a summary of data regarding several key cost of living factors for the Charleston area.

2004 (3rd Quarter) ACCRA Average House Price: $224,900

2004 (3rd Quarter) ACCRA Cost of Living Index: 92.4 (U.S. average = 100.0)

State income tax rate: Ranges from 3.0% to 6.5%

State sales tax rate: 6.0%

Local income tax rate: None

Local sales tax rate: None

Property tax rate: $8.20 per $1.000 of assessed valuation; (assessed valuation = approximately 60% of market value)

Economic Information: Charleston Regional Chamber of Commerce & Development, 1116 Smith Street, Charleston, WV 25301-2610; telephone (304)340-4253