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Morgantown makes Forbes list again

By Alex Long

Despite an economic downturn that has plagued most of the nation, Morgantown businesses continue to thrive.

Some local businesses have reflected Morgantown's success over the years and continue to grow.

Coni and Franc has been serving the local area for almost 29 years and owner Connie Merandi has no intentions of slowing down.

"I'm 51 right now, and I can still visualize myself at 65 or 70 still toddling around in my high heels," said Merandi.

Merandi has been contributing to the local economy for a long time.  She started working in a bakery at the age of 12, pumping cream into eclairs. She then worked at Dairy Mart as a cashier and did some bookkeeping.

Shortly after she graduated from WVU and getting married, she and her husband decided that they would open either a restaurant or clothing store, whichever opportunity came first.

A site for a clothing store opened up first and Merandi took advantage of it.

Merandi attributes her store's longevity to the business-friendly climate in Morgantown and to taking care of her customers.

"Every day it's a reward that you are helping people," said Merandi. "It's a personal reward; people have to want to do this."

 Morgantown is doing so well that it has, once again, found itself on Forbes' America's Best Small Cities for Business and Careers list.

In its 12th annual ranking of the best small cities for business, Forbes has Morgantown in the 10th spot out of 184 small cities, a category with a population under 245,000. Since Morgantown's debut on the list in 2006, the town has ranked in the top 10 every year.

According to, when analysts were compiling the list they looked at 12 different categories: costs (both living and business); job growth (past and projected); income growth; educational attainment (presence of highly ranked colleges); projected economic growth; and subprime mortgages.  Other quality of life factors like crime, cultural and recreational opportunities and migration trends are considered.

Morgantown ranked in the top 25 in three of those categories including crime rate, job growth and colleges. Morgantown also ranks inside the top 100 in every category except culture and recreation.

"The study is a validation of what we have seen (in bureau research)," said Tom Witt, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at WVU.

Witt says making the list is good because it shows Morgantown's continued economic growth.

One factor that contributes to economic growth is Morgantown's diverse base that includes the university, Mylan Pharmaceutical and the mining and manufacturing industries.

"(Morgantown's) economy base is supportive of a diverse economy," said Witt. 

One factor that makes the Morgantown area attractive to business, Witt said, is the human capital created by WVU.

"We have a highly educated workforce, a young and eager workforce," Witt said.

West Virginia University also landed on Forbes' America's Best College list.  WVU ranked 343 out of 610 colleges across the country.

Even with all the successful business and educated workforce, not all business ventures are profitable.

Wes Smith, a recent WVU graduate with a degree in forest resource management, attempted to jumpstart a business of his own shortly after graduating in the spring of 2010.

Smith's business was designed to provide landowners with assistance managing their forest lands by handling timber sales, timber inventories and other forestry related activities.

He worked as an independent contractor for another forest consultant and discovered that the workload was not sufficient to continue.

Smith didn't lose any money in this failed venture and has not completely shut the door on the idea of owning his own business.

"If the right opportunity came along, I would consider starting a similar business, only after I was certain that I could obtain my own clients and not have to involve any third parties."

Smith didn't have a difficult time finding another job; he now works for Greer Limestone, the largest operating limestone mine in West Virginia.

Morgantown's unemployment rate is almost annually lower than the national average. Unemployment in Morgantown during the month of August was 6.1 percent, while the national rate was 9.5 percent. 

The Morgantown Metropolitan Statistical Area, including Monongalia and Preston counties, boasts the 24th lowest unemployment rate in country. 



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