- Associated Press - Thursday, March 26, 2015

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle counties continue to bulk up on population gains, according to Census figures released Thursday.

Berkeley and Jefferson counties posted the greatest percentage increases in population from 2013 to 2014. Their combined gain of 2,565 residents was more than the other 53 counties combined, according to Census estimates.

Overall, 16 counties gained population and 39 counties lost residents.

Overall, West Virginia lost nearly 3,300 residents last year, according to the census figures. Clay County had the highest percentage drop in the state at 2.8 percent, while Kanawha County had the biggest drop in sheer numbers.

The state has 1.85 million residents.

Here’s a look at the shifting county population in West Virginia:

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GROWING PANHANDLE

Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties have increasingly become the home of commuters who work in the nearby Washington-Baltimore metropolitan area.

Berkeley County had the single-largest gain of 1,813 residents, a 1.7 percent increase. Jefferson was next with an increase of 752 residents, up 1.4 percent. Morgan gained 31 residents.

In 1970, the three-county region had 3.8 percent of the state’s residents. Now that’s up to 10 percent.

Berkeley County’s population alone grew more than 28 percent during the 1990s and has leaped nearly 46 percent since 2000 to 110,497 residents. Two years ago the county opened its fourth high school.

Yet Berkeley County has kept its rural appeal, with fishing and hunting opportunities in the nearby 23,000-acre Sleepy Creek wildlife management area.

“There are no traffic jams here,” said Laura Gassler, executive director of the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “There’s plenty of room for expansion still.”

Last month, Procter & Gamble announced plans to invest $500 million and create 700 permanent jobs at a manufacturing facility scheduled to open in 2017 outside Martinsburg. With that could come a surge in housing.

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MONONGALIA’S MOMENTUM

Monongalia County, which borders Pennsylvania in the northern part of the state, gained 1,246 residents last year, a 1.2 percent increase.

That’s on top of a state-best increase of 1,747 residents in 2013, when Monongalia joined Kanawha and Berkeley as the only counties with populations of more than 100,000.

The county, home to Morgantown-based West Virginia University, has seen a 62 percent surge in population since 1970.

SHRINKING KANAWHA

Kanawha County - home of the capital, Charleston - had the greatest loss with a drop of 1,171 residents but remains the state’s most populous county. Kanawha makes up 10.2 percent of the 55-county state’s population.

Population has dropped 18 percent since 1980 to 190,223.

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SOUTHERN COALFIELD DRAIN

Nine of the 10 counties that lost the greatest number of residents were in coal-rich southern West Virginia.

West Virginia remains the No. 2 producer of coal and leads the nation in coal jobs. But the industry, especially in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia, has seen thousands of layoffs in the past few years.

Monroe and Putnam counties were the only two counties in southern West Virginia to gain population.

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STILL THE TINIEST

Wirt remains the smallest county with a population of 5,845, down 30 residents from 2013.


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