Last October, Columbia Natural Resources' officials gave Jay Burford a
choice: Move to Ohio or find another job. Burford looked around at the
declining neighborhoods of the Kanawha Valley and chose Ohio.
"Everything just seems to be falling away," Burford said. "With all the
NiSource bought Columbia Gas Transmission and Columbia Natural
Resources last year, one of several recent mergers in Charleston. Burford
heard about the Columbia merger in June, and knew right away his
accounting job could be eliminated.
NiSource managers outlined "Project Compass" - a four-month look at
every administrative position in Charleston - to determine how many jobs
they could eliminate.
Burford talked to his wife, Jennifer. They decided that if he lost his
job they would move to another state with their 1-year-old son, Sam.
Their decision to move was complex, like the end of a turbulent
marriage. Jay and Jennifer love West Virginia. That's one of the first
things they'll tell you. They're scared to leave, but even more scared to
"You look in the newspaper here and you might find five or six decent
jobs," Burford said. "In the field that I chose, I thought it'd be a lot
easier to make better money. That's not the case. At least, not around
The Burfords are part of a larger exodus from Kanawha
County. In 1999, 1,663 more people moved out of Kanawha
County than moved in. That's more than double the number who left
More than 37,000 taxpayers left West Virginia in 1998-99, according to
migration data from the Internal Revenue Service. Their favorite
destination was Ohio, followed by Virginia and North Carolina. During that
time, more than 6,500 taxpayers moved from West Virginia to the Buckeye
Charleston Mayor Jay Goldman blames corporate shake-ups and
consolidations for the many "For Sale" signs dotting neighborhoods like
the Burfords' near St. Albans. Without effort, Goldman can rattle off a
dozen former industrial giants that have either closed or dramatically
reduced their payroll.
"We've lost our industrial base. People have to wake up and realize the
world has changed, and we haven't changed with it."
Last February, West Virginia's largest bank, One Valley, became
BB&T. About 80 workers in Charleston lost their jobs at the bank.
Across the state, almost 300 people left the bank. Thirty people moved to
BB&T's headquarters in North Carolina.
Also last year, Union Carbide workers heard that Michigan-based Dow
Chemical wanted to buy their company. More than 2,500 Carbide workers are
approved, which is expected at the end of March.
Last summer, NiSource Chairman Gary Neale predicted he would cut
one-third of his newly acquired Charleston work force, about 200 of the
700 employees. After a face-to-face, closed-door meeting with Sen. Jay
Rockefeller, D-W.Va., Neale lowered the number. About 60 people, including
Burford, lost their job in Charleston.