Although the latest drive to diversify West Virginia's economy centers on the extraction of natural gas-rich shale, other opportunities also await.
One new opportunity stems from the multi-billion-dollar expansion of the Panama Canal, which will improve the eastern United States' — and West Virginia's — access to world markets.
The canal expansion is scheduled to be finished in 2015. East Coast ports are improving their harbors so they can accept larger ships and both CSX and Norfolk Southern — the two major railroads serving West Virginia — also are making improvements.
CSX, which operates more than 2,000 miles of track in West Virginia and employs more than 1,600 people in the state, is scheduled to complete its National Gateway project next year. The $850 million project will allow the railroad to move double-stacked containers and trailers from Mid-Atlantic ports to Midwestern markets more efficiently.
The project is of interest to northern West Virginia shippers because CSX plans to invest as much as $50 million to build an intermodal terminal in McKees Rocks, Pa., which is just 30 miles east of Weirton.
Intermodal terminals transfer cargo containers and truck trailers between railcars and trucks.
Norfolk Southern, which operates throughout West Virginia's southern coalfields, completed the Heartland Corridor in 2010. The $290 million project created an intermodal route across Virginia and Southern West Virginia to Midwest markets.
One component of the Heartland Corridor is an intermodal terminal now under construction at Prichard in Wayne County. The state awarded a $27.4 million construction contract for the project in 2012. The terminal could be finished at the end of this year.
The Prichard terminal holds great promise for shippers in the region because it will reduce transit time and costs.
Terminals already operate in numerous Ohio cities, including Columbus, and there is a terminal in Front Royal, Va., so completion of the McKees Rocks and Prichard terminals will give shippers in every region of West Virginia an intermodal option.
Access to world markets has become increasingly important to West Virginia's economy. The state's exports totaled $11.3 billion in 2012, setting a record for the third consecutive year.
Other promising economic developments in the state include: