CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia's economy and the nation's economy continue to show signs of growth while recovering from the Great Recession, speakers told attendees at the 20th Annual West Virginia Economic Outlook Conference on Tuesday.
"We have a lot of things to be happy about in West Virginia," said John Deskins, director at the West Virginia University Bureau of Business & Economic Research. "And I'm not talking about the Mountaineer win over Oklahoma State, but the economy."
The state's economy has added about 3,000 jobs over the past year, mostly driven by natural resource industries. The state's unemployment rate remains lower than the national average and has been for the past five years, Deskins said.
Deskins forecasted continued growth for the state. Last year the state's real Gross Domestic Product grew by 3.3 percent, ranking West Virginia No. 10 among the states in real GDP growth.
"Despite the growth there are only three states below West Virginia in per capita income," Deskins said. "So we still have a long way to go but we've had some encouraging news."
The state experienced "strong growth" in service-producing and construction industries. Deskins said much of the construction growth has been heavy civil engineering projects for the region's expanding natural gas exploration.
The natural resources and mining sector is positioned to lead the state in employment growth. Deskins added the natural resources and mining sector is the highest-paying industry in the state.
"Our state's exports have been booming over the past four years or so," Deskins said. "Exports play an increasingly important part of our economy. That's true for the nation as a whole."
In 2000, exports accounted for just 5 percent of the state's total economic output. This past year, exports accounted for 16 percent of total economic output.
Coal is leading the state's export surge. It now accounts for more than 60 percent of the state's exports, Deskins said.
"Coal exports are moving widely across the globe," Deskins said. "We do expect coal to be a big part of our economy in the future."
Mark Muchow, deputy secretary for the West Virginia Department of Revenue, said the state is much more reliant on severance tax revenues than it has been in the past, which creates a more volatile picture down the road.
Last year, severance tax collections for coal were down 16 percent while natural gas rose 8 percent from the previous year. In 2003, severance tax accounted for 6 percent of the revenue mix. Now it accounts for 10 percent.
Muchow said they are expecting 3.5 percent revenue growth for fiscal year 2014, despite little or no revenue growth in 2013.