Advantage Valley Blog

Shedding Light On The Charleston-Huntington MSA Merger Question

The value of combining the Charleston and Huntington metropolitan statistical areas (MSA) into one large MSA has been the topic of many conversations throughout the Advantage Valley region. Some have suggested that a combined Charleston-Huntington MSA would bring more attention from companies, site consultants and those interested in business expansion. Others have said the combination might result in garnering a higher ratio of federal funding.

Did you know that out of 382 metropolitan statistical areas (MSA’s) in the United States, the Huntington MSA is ranked 148th and the Charleston MSA is ranked 200th? These rankings are based on an MSA’s population. But how an MSA’s population is calculated is determined by a region’s commuting patterns.

In an effort to seek clarity on the issue and to determine if there is any benefit to the Advantage Valley region doing so, we commissioned the law firm of Robinson McElwee, PLLC to research the topic. The U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is the agency charged with delineating the country’s “Core Based Statistical Areas” (CBSAs) based on “the application of agency standards to U.S. Census Bureau population and journey-to-work data”.

There are two types of “CBSA’s”: Metropolitan Statistical Areas and Micropolitan Statistical Areas. Both are comprised of “a central county (or counties) with at least one “core” urban area, together with adjacent outlying counties that have “a high degree of social and economic integration” with the central county (or counties) as measured through commuting data”. In a MSA, the core urban area has a population of at least 50,000, whereas in a Micropolitan Statistical Area, the core urban area has a population of less than 50,000 but more than 10,000.

A county is considered outlying and, therefore, falls within a CBSA if 25% or more of the workers living in that county work in the central county (or counties) of the CBSA, or if 25% or more of the employment in that county is accounted for by workers who live in the central county (or counties) of the CBSA. The county must also be contiguous with the other counties in the CBSA. A county cannot be included in more than one CBSA.

Pretty confusing, right? Ultimately, we learned, based on our region’s commuting patterns that the Huntington and Charleston MSA’s could not likely qualify as one large merged MSA under OMB’s standards. We also found that there is, “little evidence that the MSA designation has a significant impact on long-term employment or per capita income growth,” though there is “some evidence in favor of a short-run impact on employment growth (with different impacts across industries) and more significant impacts on population growth”.

So the jury is out regarding the benefits of a becoming an officially designated Charleston-Huntington MSA. However, given the Charleston and Huntington MSA’s share proximity, complimentary industry and services, transportation routes, labor shed and a willingness to work together for the benefit of the region and state, there is a great deal of value in marketing the Charleston to Huntington MSA’s as one region. By coordinating our marketing, site, workforce and resource development efforts, we can promote our region as a one community where businesses can invest and prosper based on the combined resources of West Virginia’s two largest MSAs.

And with the help of our local economic development authorities, the West Virginia Division of Commerce and a host of dedicated public officials, business leaders and organizations, Advantage Valley is working to do just that.

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