Putnam County's red-hot growth may be cooling off. According to
a Gazette computer analysis of IRS data, the county gained about half as
many people in 1999 as it did five years earlier.
Other signs point to a slowdown as well. For the first time in a
decade, fewer students enrolled in Putnam County's schools this year. New
building permits last year fell to 1993 levels, according to the Putnam
County Planning Office. The county lost people to Mason, Jackson and
Lincoln counties in the past six years, according to IRS data.
County leaders disagree on what has caused the slowdown, and whether
it's a blessing or a curse.
"We have a great deal of difficulty providing services to the people
who are already here," said Marjorie Ryan, head of Putnam County's
planning office. "We need to get a handle on that before we complain about
Putnam County being on a downward spiral."
Out of room?
In the 1990s, Putnam County gained 9,000 people, the same as if the
population of Dunbar had moved there. According to U.S. Census
estimates, Putnam County had the second-largest population increase
in West Virginia this decade. The population of Putnam County may
But growth in Putnam County seems to be tapering off, and the
area's leaders are wondering why. Some say the area is running out of flat
land, a big draw for families with children.
"People want more space," said Ava Crum, a former Winfield teacher and
a top-selling Putnam County real estate agent. People call her every day
looking for a 15- or 20-acre lot. They don't know that the land for their
hobby farm will cost them $100,000 or more, she
For years, Putnam County offered cheaper new homes than Kanawha County.
Builders had an easier time preparing a home site on flat land, and the
cost of the land itself was lower. But as land prices go up in Putnam
County, developers are building more expensive homes to try to recoup
"We're already to the point where Teays Valley is not the place to go
for people who are looking for homes under $100,000," Crum
Some county leaders say Teays Valley is running out of land with easy
access to public sewer and water systems.
In the early 1970s, growth in Teays Valley came to a virtual
halt when state health department officials issued a moratorium on new
construction. They said septic systems were contaminating the area's water
Developers still can find plenty of land with sewer service available,
Stotlemeyer blames job losses in Charleston and Huntington for
the slowdown in growth. About 57 percent of Putnam County workers
commute outside the county to their jobs, more than any other county in
the state, according to the state Bureau of Employment.
"I think the cool off has been caused by a weaker economy, and the
transportation bottleneck between Teays Valley and Charleston,"
Gail Vest agrees that Putnam County cannot continue to grow unless the
economies of Charleston, Huntington and the whole region improve. Vest
used to work for the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce and now runs a
regional economic development organization called Advantage Valley.
Vest said the region between Ashland, Ky., and Montgomery, W.Va., had
being shuffled from parts of Advantage Valley into Putnam County, she
The IRS data confirm Vest's instincts. More than 80 percent of Putnam
County's growth between 1994 and 1999 came from Kanawha County.
"I think it's important for Putnam people to realize they can't grow at
another county's expense," Vest
the region is really insignificant as far as economic prosperity goes."
Sen. Oshel Craigo, D-Putnam, would like to see more state development
money spent on his county and the rest of Advantage Valley. The state
attracting and keeping businesses, like the Eastern Panhandle and Putnam
"I believe you have to provide opportunities to other areas of the
Grow or die
The building boom in Teays Valley may be nearing its end. County
leaders hope the new four-lane replacement for U.S. 35 will open up land
for development. They will have one more chance to develop a large amount
of land, and to avoid the development mistakes of Teays Valley while
repeating its successes.
In November, a group of Putnam County citizens watched a special slide