Monongalia County is a prosperous and growing area located in north central West Virginia. Situated in the hills of the Appalachian Basin, the County lies approximately 75 miles south of Pittsburgh, PA and 200 miles west of Washington, DC. In fact, Mon County (as it is known to its residents) is located within a 500 mile radius of half of the nation’s population. Morgantown, along with surrounding municipalities, forms the Greater Morgantown metropolitan area, which by population comprises 93% of the county. One unique characteristic of Greater Morgantown stems from the presence of West Virginia University (WVU), a campus that is dispersed throughout the city. WVU plays home to approximately 30,000 students, the majority in the 18-24 age range. In Greater Morgantown, town and gown are inextricably intertwined through economy, transportation, culture and entertainment and the university and municipality work together to foster community.
Greater Morgantown thrives not only from the presence of WVU, but also from the presence of other large organizations which influence the region’s economy. Greater Morgantown is home to one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies (Mylan Pharmaceuticals), the only transplant hospital in the country with a rural designation (Ruby Memorial), as well as divisions of major federal government agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory. Indeed, this area is a major driving force behind the growth of the north central West Virginia’s “I-79 High-Tech Corridor.” Economic growth in this region is evidenced by Monongalia’s median household income, which grew from $30,500 in 2000 to over $44,000 in 2010. This growth rate of 44% far surpasses the growth rate of the West Virginia economy (32%) and the broader U.S. economy (26%). Similarly, median house values in the county increased by a staggering 66% (from $95,500 in 2000 to 159,000 in 2010). Again, this growth rate is higher than experienced throughout the state (33%) as well as throughout the United States in general (51%). Monongalia County’s economic growth has also been influenced by its population growth. Between the 2000 and 2014, the population of Monongalia County grew from approximately 81,000 residents to more than 103,000 residents, which represents a growth rate of 17.5%. This is almost double the national population growth rate (9.7%) and more than seven times the state population growth rate during this same time period. Based on these facts, it is easy to see why Greater Morgantown is considered by many in this state as an “economic engine” for West Virginia. Without the prosperity and growth experienced in Monongalia County, many of the positive economic indicators for the state would likely fall below national averages. As such a booming part of West Virginia’s expansion, Greater Morgantown is an area ripe with opportunity, but also with challenges. The leadership involved in this project is looking for ways to create environments that promote safety and wellbeing, making our community an even better place to live, work and attend school. The result of such an effort will allow policy makers and public health officials to take stock of policies, services and programs in order to make more informed decisions regarding the safety needs of Monongalia’s growing population.
Interest in forming a Safe Communities Initiative originated with West Virginia University’s WELLWVU Office of Wellness & Health Promotion (OWHP), whose vision is to lead the way to a culture that embraces wellbeing. OWHP is charged with identifying impediments to student wellbeing and applying the socio-ecological model to create solutions that promote better health in students.
Existing data from both the National Collegiate Health Assessment II and Alcohol Edu® highlight the negative consequences students experience from high risk drinking and violence. A review of environmental factors contributing to the problem identified state laws and alcohol outlet density as deterrents to an improved culture, and we quickly reached out to City of Morgantown officials Mayor Jenny Selin and Deputy Mayor Marti Shamberger and West Virginia House of Delegate’s member Barbara Fleischauer to form a committee. The WVU Injury Control Research Center’s Herb Linn proved to be an invaluable early addition to the executive group as the scope of the project broadened to include all areas affecting safety and wellbeing in our community. This group sees value in achieving the Safe Communities accreditation for many reasons. First, we value the data driven principles behind it, knowing that an objective understanding will best help us in addressing safety impediments in our community. Second, this project brings together the strength of resources in our community, from researchers at the University, to policy makers at the city and state level, to intervention specialists that we know will yield the best outcome for improving safety in our community. Finally, the project lays the groundwork for a measurable, systematic, community based approach to injury prevention for students and all community members that will serve as a guiding framework for work in years to come.