The top landowners in West Virginia are corporations headquartered outside the state, according to a new report from the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) released on Dec. 9, 2013.
"Who owns West Virginia?" reexamines the 1970s work of Huntington Herald-Dispatch reporter Tom Miller, and found that not one of the top ten landowners in West Virginia has its headquarters in the state.
At the top of the list today is the Heartwood Forestland Fund, a timberland investment company that manages more than 500,000 acres across 31 counties. It replaces energy-based corporations that were the state's top landowners for most of the 20th century.
The most concentrated ownership is found in the southern coalfields, which raises concerns about the state’s economy with the report's authors.
"Absentee land ownership is a major thread that runs through our state's history. Over the past century, outside control of land and natural resources has resulted in a steady flow of wealth out of West Virginia," explained Beth Spence, coalfield specialist with AFSC’s economic justice program. "Like those who studied this issue before us, we believe that knowing who owns West Virginia's land and mineral resources can help us make good decisions about the state's economic future and well-being."
"A few large companies owning a big portion of the southern coalfields could make it incredibly difficult to develop the area as coal continues its decline," stated Ted Boettner, executive director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy. "The implications of this research merit further investigation of taxation, mineral ownership, and how to incentivize development in the region."