Looking at West Virginia through demographics and economic force - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Looking at West Virginia through demographics and economic forces

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CHARLESTON, West Virginia -

At West Virginia State University, Dr. Billy Joe Peyton teaches a course called the History of West Virginia and Appalachian Region. In this class he and his students examine what has changed and what lies ahead for the state.

"The history of West Virginia is in fact the history of coal, from the very beginning, from the formation of the state," said Peyton. "That's been really the main economic engine for the state."

About a quarter of West Virginians live in coal country, a region made up of 11 counties that is and has been known for coal mining. Although the number of jobs in this area has grown it's also seen a lot of people leave.

"We're still dependent on Fossil Fuels and extractive industries in West Virginia and probably will be into the foreseeable future but the shift is moving towards gas development," said Peyton.

Population in the northern counties is growing as natural gas is being extracted from the Marcellus Shale.

"It's been a real plus economically. It's been a real boom. I think we are going to see a surge both in terms of jobs, population," said Senator Rocky Fitzsimmons, a democrat from Ohio County.

The political power within the state is also shifting. The speaker of the house and the senate president used to come from the coal country but now hail from the shale industry.

"The West Virginia that historically I teach about and that my students learn about, the state will be different," said Peyton.