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WVU researchers unveil economic action plan for Potomac Highlands counties

After a year and a half of research, three WVU centers will release an economic plan for West Virginia's Potomac Highlands.

UPDATE:  The full 8-page report can be viewed here.


In 2015, Pendleton County, WV, and the broader Potomac Highlands region (including Hardy, Hampshire, Grant, Mineral, and Pendleton counties) experienced a significant economic loss when the Sugar Grove Naval Station shut down its operations. The base provided a stable source of income for its employees and in turn local businesses that relied on the patronage of the workers at the base for their livelihoods.

As a result of the closure of the Sugar Grove base, the Pendleton County Commission, in coordination with the Region 8 Planning and Development Council, engaged researchers at West Virginia University to develop a Strategic Action Plan to promote the economic development in the Potomac Highlands Region. The development of the Strategic Action Plan was completed through a four-pronged approach with the completion of (1) an economic impact analysis of the Sugar Grove Naval Base closure and economic profile of the region; (2) a cluster analysis that made recommendations for industrial targeting based on an assessment of existing economic conditions in conjunction with industry-specific growth potential; 3) a workforce and educational assessment of the Potomac Highlands counties; and 4) extensive interviews with business and community stakeholders in the region. Based on these findings, we make six recommendations that make up our proposed Action Plan for Economic Prosperity in the Potomac Highlands region.        


1. Embrace Potomac Highlands Regional Identity: Embracing the five-county region as the Potomac Highlands in economic development efforts, county level decision making, state and federal level resource requests, and tourism related branding would provide a united front, thus increasing the area’s visibility in business, visitor, and resident attraction efforts.

2. Assist in Recruiting and Training Workforce: With the significant changes in the workforce over the last five years, including major layoffs and hiring activities in different sectors across the region, maintaining a worker training and recruitment infrastructure is essential to support business retention and local citizen needs.

3. Improve Digital Communication of Economic Development Opportunities:The digital information available on the area needs to be refined and improved to maximize the region’s digital presence for both businesses and visitors.

4. Collaborate Regionally on Federal Funding Opportunities: In many cases a regional application may be more competitive for federal funding opportunities based on preferential grant application scoring for larger “impact” based on population demographics. Regional or multi-county applications also shows cooperation and grant management capacity.

5. Develop Land Use Policies That Incentivize Housing And Lodging Growth: There was a strong demand by local stakeholders for additional hotels in the region, and a recognition of the need for new housing stock. To attract appropriate residential and commercial lodging, the region should work collectively across the counties to implement land use policies that incentivize residential housing and commercial lodging opportunities while preserving the natural assets of the region. Regional proactive planning is necessary to allow community stakeholders to address viewshed concerns, water resource impacts, and other unintended consequences of growth.

6. Target Primary and Emerging Clusters for Recruitment: We recommend focusing economic development efforts on the industries that were identified as part of Primary and Emerging clusters in our cluster analysis. These include: Advanced Materials, Forest and Wood Products, Business and Financial Services, Information Technology and Telecommunications, Machinery Manufacturing, and Transportation Equipment Manufacturing.


WVU researchers to unveil economic action plan for Potomac Highlands counties

The five-county area comprising West Virginia’s Potomac Highlands could improve economically by embracing and promoting its regional identity, according to a new study by three West Virginia University centers.

After a year and a half of research, the plan which recommends several strategic actions to promote economic prosperity in the region will be released Friday at Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College in Moorefield.

“It is anticipated that the WVU study will provide the basis for formulating a long-term regional development strategy that will benefit the five counties of the Potomac Highlands Region, both economically and culturally,” said Pendleton County Commission President Gene McConnell.

Researchers at WVU’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, the Northern West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Center and the Regional Research Institute contributed to the plan, which was funded by Pendleton County and the Region 8 Planning and Development Council, using funds from the US Department of Defense.

photo of John Deskins
John Deskins, Director of Bureau of Business and Economic Research 

“We are happy to be able to assist the Potomac Highlands counties to form a long-term plan to grow their workforce and economy,” said BBER Director John Deskins. “We anticipate that this study will provide vital data and analysis to improve economic outcomes in the region.”

The study makes six recommendations, including assistance in recruiting new workers, improving digital communications, and developing new policies to promote housing and lodging growth.

photo of Patrick Kirby
Patrick Kirby, Brownfields Center Director 

“The Potomac Highlands is region full of opportunity,” said Brownfields Center Director Patrick Kirby. “The Strategic Action Recommendations further solidifies the value of regional economic development efforts and coordination.”

McConnell said that the recommendations in the study will require concerted effort to implement, but he is confident that the region offers prospective business partners a diverse environment to consider as they develop business strategies.

“We fully understand there are no quick solutions to the economic challenges as defined by the study,” McConnell said. “However, the study provides the data that should allow us to focus on initiatives that are appropriate for the Potomac Highlands Region in the formulation of a comprehensive Regional Development Plan.”



CONTACT: Brittany Murray
Senior Writer, Office of Strategic Communications
John Chambers College of Business and Economics
(304) 293-5927;

The Northern West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Center is a program of the West Virginia Water Research Institute, a division of the WVU Energy Institute.