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Kanawha County lost twice as many taxpayers and their


dependents in 1999 than in 1994. Why is the population loss accelerating,


where are people going and what can be done to turn it around?



Imagine all the people in Charleston packing their belongings and


leaving Kanawha County, never to return. How many schools


would have to close? How many services would be cut for the people left





Kanawha County has lost more than 53,000 people since


1960, according to U.S. Census figures. That's about the number of


Charleston residents today.



The county's bleeding of people slowed in the early 1990s, but the flow


has grown into a hemorrhage in the last five years, according to migration


data from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. The county lost twice


as many people in 1999 than in 1994, the data show.



If the people who left Kanawha County were replaced by an


equal number of people coming in, the trend would go unnoticed. Instead,


6,789 more people have fled the county than have moved here between


1994 and 1999, according to the IRS data.



That's the same as if every resident of Nitro loaded up their U-Hauls


and took off. It's as if every Charleston Alley Cat fan sitting in Watt


Powell Park and every West Virginia Symphony patron in Charleston's


Municipal Auditorium disappeared from the county forever.



A constant drain



For this story, the Sunday Gazette-Mail conducted a computer-assisted


analysis on IRS migration data for Kanawha County from 1994


until 1999, the most recent year available.



The IRS keeps tabs on more than just how much money the government is


owed. Taxpayers tell the IRS which county they live in when they


fill out their tax return. By comparing the taxpayer's county of


residence from year to year, the IRS can tell us how many taxpayers and


their dependents moved into a county and how many people left. The


data is not perfect, but it captures an estimated 80 percent of all





In 1994, 7,231 people left Kanawha County and 6,442


people moved in. The county lost 798 people. In 1999, 7,659 people


left and 5,996 moved in. That year, the county's population drain doubled


to 1,663 people (see accompanying chart).



The departing taxpayers took with them more than $158 million in


taxable income. Kanawha County loses their purchasing power,


  • ales taxes and property taxes.


    Teachers, parents and students in Kanawha County schools


    know firsthand the pain that this population decline can cause. The school


  • ystem lost almost one-third of its students in the last 20 years. More

    than 40,000 students attended Kanawha County schools in


    1980, compared to only 28,000 today.



    The school board has closed school after school, citing declining


    enrollment. More than 200 Kanawha County school employees


    are slated to lose their jobs this summer.



    Everyone in Kanawha County, not just families with


    children, suffers when the population drops, according to Charleston Mayor


    Jay Goldman. When many people leave, the cost of sewers, water and other


  • ervices is spread out among fewer and fewer.


    "We either have to cut services or the people who remain have to pay


    more," Goldman said.



    Where are they going?



    People have been leaving West Virginia in great numbers since the


    1940s. Back then, the "Hillbilly Highway" ran north to factory towns such


    as Columbus, Cleveland and Detroit.



    Now, southern states like North Carolina, Florida, Virginia and


    Tennessee are the most popular destination for people who leave


    Kanawha County and never come back. Kanawha


    County had a net loss of almost 4,000 taxpayers and their


    dependents to southern states between 1993 and 1999. About 570 were lost


    to the Midwest - states like Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and Illinois.



    Many Kanawha taxpayers are making shorter moves to the suburban


    and rural areas west of the county. More than 2,600 Kanawha


    County taxpayers and their dependents moved to Putnam County


    in the last six years. Jackson, Lincoln, Cabell and Roane gained a total


    of more than 1,000 taxpayers.



    Kanawha County is gaining taxpayers and dependents from


    one area of the state: the southern coalfields. Boone, Logan, Fayette and


    Raleigh counties all contributed almost 1,000 taxpayers to the





    The median income of the people leaving the county is about $400


    a year higher than the income of those coming into the county -


    $19,590 for out-migrants compared to $19,174 for in-migrants.



    Moving in the right direction



    People are leaving Kanawha County for a variety of


    reasons. Some are looking for newer, cheaper housing and a more suburban





    But most people leave the state looking for work, Goldman said. The


  • tate has lost about 40 percent of its chemical manufacturing jobs since

    1980, he said. He easily names a dozen Kanawha Valley industrial


    plants that have closed or reduced jobs in the past 20 years: Owens


    Corning, Union Carbide, DuPont, etc.



    That industrial past is over, he said, but some area leaders haven't


    caught up with that reality. Goldman wants to focus on generating


    high-tech jobs in the county.



    "We still want to think we're this heavy industrial county,"


    Goldman said. "We need to change this macho image, get real and get moving


    in the right direction."



    A comprehensive study of the state's economy released last year by


    Market Street Services says state leaders have given little thought to


  • tructuring incentives to grow "new economy" jobs.


    "Instead, the orientation of West Virginia's system is still attempting


    to address the historic needs and desires of industries that no longer


    provide much return on the state's investment," the study said.



    Earlier studies of West Virginia's economic problems have sat on a


  • helf gathering dust, leading to more studies about the state's economic

    woes, the Market Street study concluded. West Virginia's leaders need to


    implement recommendations made in the past and "get the word out" about


    the state's positive aspects, the study said.



    For example, the Kanawha Valley has a large, untapped pool of


    unemployed and underemployed workers to draw from. Toyota officials made


    their Buffalo plant the first facility outside Japan to produce parts for


    their Lexus luxury line because of the high quality of their West Virginia


    work force.



    Bringing people back



    Kanawha County Commissioner Kent Carper disputes the


  • otion that the county is in any sort of decline. Although he

    doesn't argue the county is losing population, he says


    county leaders have expanded the infrastructure that keeps people





    "Build water and sewer, improve the educational system, provide


    affordable housing - those are the things that attract young families,"


    Carper said. "Its not rocket science."



    Since 1996, more than 2,700 county residents have hooked up to


    public water for the first time, according to the county planning


    office. About 1,900 more people are now on a public sewer system. Builders


    asked the county for permission to create 616 subdivision lots in


    2000, up from 213 in 1999 and the highest number in five years.



    Carper points to the upper Kanawha Valley as an area that is on


    the rebound. The new Riverside High School, expanded water and sewer and a


    four-lane U.S. 60 have led to a mini-boom in subdivision construction in


    places like Quincy and Shrewsbury, which have seen little development in


    more than a decade. However, part of the subdivision boom may also be


    attributed to buyouts of houses for an expansion project at the nearby


    Marmet locks.



    Sen. Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha, has a different idea for bringing


    people back into Kanawha County, especially Charleston:


    Redevelop the city's old brick buildings and create a vibrant cultural and


  • ocial scene downtown. McCabe has developed several residential properties

    in downtown Charleston, including the newly completed Maple Terrace, new


    and renovated townhouses in Charleston's East End.



    "We have to make the city exciting, a destination, a place where people


    will want to live," McCabe said.



    Charleston and the rest of Kanawha County can't compete


    on price of land and new buildings with surrounding counties, he said.


    Instead, McCabe said leaders in the county should continue to


    renovate downtown, build the Clay Center for the Arts to the east and join


    the two together into a cultural and arts district that will attract


    visitors, residents and tax dollars.



    Goldman concedes that making the city exciting will help. But he said


    it won't be enough to stop the area's slow decline as long as it costs so


    much to build in Kanawha County.



    "I talked recently to someone who decided to build a home in Putnam


    County," he said. "He said it was worth the 30-minute drive to be


    able to build a larger house. You can have exciting things, but if people


    want a less expensive house, and not to get taxed to death ..."



    Part Two of "Valley on the Move," which will examine Putnam County's


    gain from Kanawha County's loss, will appear Monday in The


    Charleston Gazette.




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