Metro government supporters routinely say that a new consolidated government would make Kanawha County more attractive to corporations looking for new locations. Skeptics shake their heads. Kanawha has about 190,000 people, including 50,000 in Charleston. Redrawing lines on a map or redesigning local government won’t suddenly add thousands of irresistible skilled workers or fix any other problems that turn business off.
True, says Matt Ballard, president and CEO of Charleston Area Alliance. But he believes metro government really could make Kanawha County more attractive to corporations.
“Large businesses do hire site consultants,” Ballard said. “They come back with a short list of sites that meet certain criteria.” Companies are usually looking for two main things — infrastructure and population of a certain size, enough to provide a good workforce.
So, for example, if that consultant makes a list of all the metropolitan statistical areas of 250,000 anchored by a principal city, no place in West Virginia makes the cut.
“We’re eliminated before we even know there’s a project,” Ballard said.
But if county residents formed a single government, it would rank as a city of 190,000. When you add the population of Putnam, Boone, Lincoln and Clay counties, the entire region — and potential workforce — reaches almost 300,000.
That’s enough to get on someone’s short list, and maybe even to get a visit.
“Once we have them here, the pitch is a lot easier,” Ballard said. He is able to show prospective corporations possible sites and demonstrate how employers in Kanawha County routinely draw workers from surrounding counties.
The Charleston area is already a metropolitan statistical area by the U.S. Census Bureau’s definition:
A geographic entity defined by the federal Office of Management and Budget for use by federal statistical agencies, based on the concept of a core area with a large population nucleus, plus adjacent communities having a high degree of economic and social integration with that core. Qualification of an MSA requires the presence of a city with 50,000 or more inhabitants, or the presence of an Urbanized Area (UA) and a total population of at least 100,000.
But an MSA with a population center of 50,000 is not as marketable as a larger area with a population center of 190,000, Ballard said.
A single metro government may be attractive to prospective employers for other reasons, too, such as having only one governmental entity for permitting requirements, Ballard said.
“If you create more efficiencies in government, maybe you can create the infrastructure that companies want, such as water, sewer, roads, greenspaces. It is viewed by most as a very progressive step, an acknowledged leap in the right direction,” he said.