Interstate 68 (I-68) is a 113-mile, east-west highway that travels through mountainous and rural areas to connect I-70 in Hancock, Maryland, to I-79 in Morgantown, West Virginia. In 2016, the counties and cities that share I-68 as a common asset formed the I-68 Regional Economic Partnership (REP). While the participating cities and counties shared many traits, they also varied in demographics, growth trends, and predominant industries. Collectively, the region struggled with the continuing decline of the coal industry and the need to further diversify its industry base.
To identify business clusters that would complement the region’s existing assets while helping to meet the region’s diversification goals, the REP hired TIP Strategies to conduct a target industry analysis with funding from a Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) grant awarded by the Appalachian Regional Commission. An analysis of the region’s competitive position revealed a number of strengths that would support an enhanced business attraction effort, including the ability to draw in workers from a large pool of labor across multiple states, excellent market access to a broad cross section of the US, and unparalleled scenic appeal and outdoor recreation opportunities. The selection of targets was informed by quantitative analyses (including a review of the region’s supply chain), interviews with major employers and other stakeholders, and an understanding of relevant national and international trends. TIP provided profiles of each target—hospitality and tourism, healthcare, manufacturing, technology, and natural resources—as well as economic profiles of each of the five REP counties.