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Editorial: Expanded metropolitan area has potential benefits for Tri-State

Mar. 20, 2013 @ 10:35 PM

On paper at least, the Tri-State received a potential boost last month when the federal government expanded the boundaries of the Huntington-Ashland Metropolitan Statistical Area to include two more counties.

Exactly what that means for short-term and long-term benefits remains to be seen, but local officials in government and economic development should busy themselves to find out and assess what they can do to take advantage.

A Metropolitan Statistical Area, or MSA, is a geographical region designated by the government with a relatively high population density at its center and the surrounding area tied to it economically or by population density.

Previously, the Huntington-Ashland MSA included Cabell and Wayne counties in West Virginia, Lawrence County in Ohio, and Boyd and Greenup counties in Kentucky. But a review of more recent Census data, including population density and commuting patterns, prompted the government to shift Putnam and Lincoln counties in West Virginia from the Charleston MSA to the Huntington-Ashland MSA.

In Putnam County's case, the deciding factor was a more dense population on the western side of the county, closest to Cabell, while in Lincoln County commuting patterns for work prompted the change.

The net result is the expanded Huntington-Ashland MSA now boasts a total population of about 365,000, compared with about 287,00 before. Population-wise, the MSA now ranks as the 143rd largest in the country, up from 162nd previously.

Local officials were cautious in assessing the change's impact, but they generally viewed it is a welcome development.

Some speculated that expansion could lead to more federal funding channeling directly to the region, rather than first being filtered and potentially reduced by state agencies. That might be beneficial in regard to money for transportation-related projects, which play a prominent role in local economic development efforts, according to Bill Dingus, executive director of the Lawrence County (Ohio) Economic Development Corporation.

Others spoke about how simply having a bigger population number and economic ties within a larger region could help draw the attention of companies looking for places to do business. "There are people who look at (MSA information) and don't always tell us they're looking," Tom Bell, executive director of the Huntington Municipal Development Authority, told The Herald-Dispatch. "It draws their attention to the area because they see they'd have a much larger marketing area than just the city itself."

In both regards, the region stands to gain.

Already, considerable cooperation exists across state and county borders in the Tri-State in terms of economic development efforts -- a necessary ingredient if the region hopes to have success. The addition of two more counties to the Huntington-Ashland MSA underscores the need for that mutual effort to continue and be strengthened across a broader area. Officials in all seven counties should look at every means possible to capitalize on the bigger, more populous Huntington-Ashland MSA.

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