While mining represents between 4 percent and 5 percent of total employment, those jobs tend to be high-paying, Bowen said. For that reason and others, the mining sector accounts for as much as 15 percent of the state's economic performance, he said.
"In terms of overall economic output, it's more substantial," Bowen said. "When you have declines in that sector, it tends to have a ripple effect across the economy."
Among other factors, coal production has slowed as power plants switch to cheaper natural gas as their fuel source. Bowen noted that in April, natural gas generated as much electricity as coal did.
"That's just unheard of," he said.
West Virginia also produces natural gas, including in the rich Marcellus shale reserve deep underground that's attracted much interest from the drilling industry. But among other differences, those jobs don't pay as well as coal jobs.
"The gas sector certainly has been growing, and will probably continue to grow, but it won't be offsetting the losses in the coal sector," Bowen said.
Other areas of the economy will, however, said Bowen, citing the upcoming forecast. He said construction, health care, professional and business services jobs are among those expected to rebound.
"Things are continuing to look pretty good for the next several years," Bowen said. "The job losses that we've seen in the energy sector are concerning, but overall that will be outweighed by gains in other sectors. ... There are a lot of other areas of the economy that are doing pretty well right now."
West Virginia weathered the Great Recession and the fragile recovery better than a number of other states. Its monthly unemployment rate has never equaled or exceeded the U.S. rate since the recession hit in November 2008 - though September's rate is as close as it has come, just two-tenths of a percent lower.
The national unemployment rate dropped last month, from 8.1 percent to 7.8 percent. West Virginia's 7.6 percent rate was higher than that of 23 other states. Among its neighbors, West Virginia's rate was lower than Kentucky's or Pennsylvania's but higher than that of Maryland, Ohio or Virginia.
West Virginia's September rate is also lower than it was a year ago or when Tomblin narrowly defeated Maloney in the October 2011 special election for an unexpired term as governor. Their rematch is for a full, four-year term. The state had 4,700 fewer people filing unemployment claims last month compared with September 2011 and more people employed - though only 400, according to the seasonally adjusted figures.
But West Virginia has yet to return to pre-recession levels. Unemployment stood at just 4.5 percent in October 2008, the month before economists believe the meltdown hit the state. Around 36,100 people received unemployment benefits then, compared with 60,800 last month. While the labor force had just 4,000 more people then than it did in September, it also had 28,700 more jobs.