By Jessica Borders
Times West Virginian
A Fairmont State University report recognizes that the technology industry is a significant player and an economic driver in the area.
Dr. Amy Godfrey, assistant professor of economics at Fairmont State University, is the author of the report, titled the “Economic Impact of the North Central West Virginia Technology Industry on the West Virginia Economy.”
Dr. Richard Harvey, dean of the FSU School of Business, serves on the West Virginia High Technology Consortium Foundation’s Affiliate Leadership Council and said the idea for a new technology impact study came out of discussions with the group. FSU stepped up to tackle the project as part of its services to the business community.
This regional impact study will be distributed widely throughout the state and online, he said.
Jim Estep, president and CEO of the WVHTC Foundation, said the report was a way to more precisely quantify the significant and important activity occurring in the region’s high-technology sector and judge where the growth is headed.
“Both FSU as well as Pierpont Community & Technical College, they have stayed very engaged with the regional technology community and have a done a good job of identifying ways that they can provide an educational service to this community,” he said.
The formal release of the study took place in Charleston on March 14 as part of the “High Tech Expo,” organized by the WVHTC Foundation in Fairmont and its Affiliate Services Program. During the event, approximately 25 businesses from the I-79 High Tech Corridor set up booths at the West Virginia Culture Center and Museum.
The expo was an opportunity to make legislators aware of the activities going on in the north central part of the state, and help them start thinking about the importance of the area’s business sector and the role it plays in the overall state economy. Hopefully sharing that data with legislators will lead to the state government’s interest in supporting the growth, Estep said.
Godfrey, who came from the West Virginia University College of Business and Economics’ Bureau of Business and Economic Research, joined FSU’s School of Business in September of 2012 and began working on the economic impact report at that time.
“This study focused on the economic impact of the technology industry located in North Central West Virginia on the region’s economy and the state’s economy in 2011,” she said.
The report focuses on Harrison, Lewis, Marion, Monongalia, Preston and Upshur counties as North Central West Virginia and also several other counties in the state and bordering states that are considered to be part of the I-79 Corridor. Those other counties include Barbour, Braxton, Doddridge, Gilmer, Randolph and Taylor in West Virginia; Fayette and Greene in Pennsylvania; and Garrett in Maryland.
Godfrey created the study using data on employment and wages that came from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, WorkForce West Virginia and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Fifty-two sectors from the North American Industry Classification System were included to define the technology industry. With an input-output model, Godfrey was able to estimate the economic impact.
She found that the technology industry made up 7.3 percent of total employment and 12.8 percent of total wages in West Virginia in 2011, and 5.05 percent of total employment and 7.42 percent of total wages in the north central part of the state.
“The technology industry is thriving in North Central West Virginia due to the unique demographics of the region,” Godfrey said. “The North Central West Virginia region has above state average educational attainment as well as a more mature aged population.”
She said a very substantial portion of total employment and wages in Marion County came from the technology industry. In 2011, 7.05 percent of total employment and 9.02 percent of total wages in the county could be attributed to this industry.
In terms of economic impact, the technology industry in North Central West Virginia led to $1.6 billion of output, $953 million of value added, and 11,500 jobs and $587.2 million of employee compensation. The area’s impact on the state economy included $1.7 billion of output, $974.8 million of value added, and 11,900 jobs and $597.2 million of employee compensation.
“While the technology industry accounts for a significant portion of total employment for the state and region, the industry accounted for even a larger portion of total wages,” Godfrey said. “This indicates the high level of wages earned by employees in the industry.”
She explained that the report’s results were actually conservative due to an issue with non-disclosure related to the county-level employment and wage data for many of the sectors considered to be part of the technology industry.
Godfrey sees a positive future for the area’s technology sector.
“The technology industry has been growing in North Central West Virginia in the past few years and I expect that the industry will continue to grow in the years to come,” she said.
Estep commented that the study confirmed what the area believed it was seeing.
“It was a validation that the growth is continuing and results are coming in as we were hoping they would,” he said. “It gets everybody excited but motivated to keep working.”
Estep said the federal operations in the region, from the FBI and NASA to the National Energy Technology Laboratory, are the anchors that help drive the technology industry and spark growth.
The area needs to work hard to preserve those operations and help them expand, and also identify and recruit more of these anchors, he said. The presence of those entities attracts more companies that are pursing contracting opportunities and creates even more activity.
“I hope that our efforts and the things we’re doing are a catalyst to make all that produce the kind of economic growth and prosperity that we want to see and is demonstrated as occurring in this study,” Estep said.
He hopes that North Central West Virginia continues to see this steady growth, which could bring other federal anchors to the area as well as more commercial business activities.
“Like any economic development effort, it takes time, but I’m very happy with the base that we’ve created,” Estep said. “I’m happy with the growth, and I think if we can weather the storms of the federal budget madness in Washington and if we can convince the state to increase their support, then I think there’s amazing potential.”
Harvey added that high-tech firms that may be considering locating in the area will find the benefit of being around other firms that are doing similar things. Companies can work together to obtain federal contracts.
The FSU School of Business places a lot of students in this growing and strong industry in the area, which is why it’s so important for the school to know this information, he said. With the many opportunities in the region, young people don’t have to go far to get a good high-tech job.
“We encourage the industry because it really is a nice opportunity for our students to get high-paying jobs in the regional area,” Harvey said. “We’re ideally situated.”
With Godfrey’s background, the school now has the ability to provide more economic reports like this for the community, Harvey said.
“It is a new expertise that we have and something that we hope to make available on a more regular basis going forward in the future,” he said.
This is one of the services that the School of Business wants to offer through its University Business Center. The goal of the center is to serve as the community outreach and engagement arm of the school, Harvey said.
In addition to the reports, the center handles internship experiences and works to make community connections and develop partnerships with the regional business sector, he said. By engaging with the business community, the School of Business can make sure its curriculum is current and valid and that students have the proper knowledge to enter the workforce.
Gina Fantasia came on board in October as the director of the University Business Center.
She further explained that the center works to provide students with a wide range of opportunities to gain hands-on, professional skills that will allow them to use their academic knowledge in a practical way and be valuable to their future employers.
“The idea is that through faculty consulting, the internships, practicums and course-related projects, we make sure that our students are job-ready (upon graduation),” Fantasia said.
The second purpose of the center is to give the region’s public and private decision makers the economic data and expertise to take their businesses to the next level for success. Fantasia said Godfrey’s recent work with the WVHTC Foundation is a perfect illustration of how faculty can partner with the business community.
Email Jessica Borders at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @JBordersTWV.