Institute for Policy Research and Public Affairs | Comparative Business Opportunities in Morgantown (2024)


Director Sam Workman
Institute for Policy Research and Public Affairs
Rockefeller School of Policy and Politics
West Virginia University
1515 University Ave.
Woodburn Hall, 221D PO Box 6286
Morgantown, WV 26506

Phone: +01 304-293-9306
Fax to: 304-293-6858
on X as @WVUPolicyRes
on LinkedIn as wvu-policy-research

Institute for Policy Research and Public Affairs | Comparative Business Opportunities in Morgantown (1)

This report provides a gap and void analysis for business opportunities in Downtown Morgantown compared to downtown businesses of college towns in the same region. The study was initiated at the request of Morgantown’s Economic Vitality Committee, which brings together representatives from the City of Morgantown, Main Street Morgantown, and the Morgantown Area Partnership. The committee also brings expertise from West Virginia University and the local business and non-profit communities to work on aspects of economic development in the city. These analyses address the continued need for public and private investment in Downtown. The college towns used as references for Morgantown are Charlottesville and Blacksburg, Virginia, and Asheville, North Carolina. These college towns are home to the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, and the University of North Carolina. Aside from its closeness to the heart of West Virginia University, Morgantown’s downtown district also serves as the city’s economic center. It is home tobusinesses, including retail stores, restaurants, professional offices, and financial institutions. These businesses generate employment opportunities, attract visitors, and contribute to the local economy in tax and revenue streams. The district often hosts community events, festivals, and concerts, which draw residents and visitors alike. Downtown also highlights the city’s history and heritage. It features a mix of historic buildings and landmarks, including, among others, the Metropolitan Theater, the Monongalia County Courthouse, and the Warner Theater. These landmark buildings preserve the architectural and cultural legacy of the area and its art galleries and museums, offering opportunities for artistic expression and culturalexperiences. The downtown area also serves as a vital link to the university community. The presence of West Virginia University (WVU) brings a significant student population and academic resources to the downtown area, contributing to its vibrancy and fostering a unique blend of student life and city culture.

1.1 Objectives

This report aims to identify the gaps and opportunities for business development in downtown Morgantown compared to downtown areas in Charlottesville, Blacksburg, and Asheville. This analysis is instrumental in determining if a new establishment (e.g., a restaurant) in a particular area will reduce demand for restaurants or if it will fill a gap and increase profits and, consequently, tax revenue for the city. The analysis aims to identify voids in the market where there is an undersupply or lack of certain goods, services, or retail establishments.Knowing if there are voids will allow the City of Morgantown to determine where investment opportunities exist for new businesses in the downtown district. More specifically, gaps and voids will allow the Cityof Morgantown, Main Street Morgantown, and the Morgantown Area Partnership to better target and tailor business incentives to promote economic growth and vibrancy in the downtown area. Ours is an effort to develop a more systematic overview of these opportunities.

A void analysis helps ensure that the downtown area offers diverse amenities in retail stores, restaurants, entertainment venues, and service providers. Filling voids in the market can enhance the livability and quality of life for downtown residents, workers, students, and visitors. The latter category of patrons is increasingly important given the economic transition that envisions a larger role for recreation and tourism as economic drivers in the state generally. Stakeholders can identify potential revenue-generating opportunities that align with the needs and preferences of the community. Filling market voids can stimulate local business activity, increase employment opportunities, and generate tax revenue, thereby boosting the economic health of the downtown area and the city. It also provides opportunities for urban planners. By understanding the gaps in the market, they can make informed decisions regarding land use, zoning regulations, infrastructure development, and public space design in the downtown area.

1.2 Key Findings

  • Downtown Morgantown is comparatively small, roughly a quarter to a third of the size of our comparison regions. This no doubt owes in part to increased fragmentation in development in Morgantown and surrounding areas - Morgantown is increasingly a neighborhood city.

  • Broadly, we find that Blacksburg provides the most appropriate comparison for Morgantown. The corollary is that popular thinking about bigger, demographically different downtowns is less useful inattracting and incentivizing business opportunities.

  • Morgantown faces similar tradeoffs to other rural communities. Strategies can center on capturing revenue from residents in surrounding neighborhoods or target attracting visitors from the outside region. The latter group is increasingly important as rural communities have lost population.

This analysis uses ESRI’s gap and void analysis feature on the ArcGIS Business Analyst platform—a tool designed to help businesses and organizations understand the gaps or deficiencies in their market. It identifies areas or regions lacking specific services, amenities, or business establishments. The spatial and business data used on the platform is culled from Data Axle and has been updated to include 2023 data.

The void analysis feature combines demographic data, consumer behavioral patterns, and spatial analysis techniques to identify areas with unmet demand for products or services. It helps businesses make informed decisions about market expansion, site selection for new business locations, or introducing new products or services, identifying gaps in market coverage. The terms “gap” and “void” are often used interchangeably in this context, but they have slightly different connotations.

  • A void refers to an area with an actual absence or deficiency of a particular product or service, representing unmet demand. It represents a clear opportunity for businesses or service providers to meet demand by establishing a presence.

  • A gap refers to an area where demand for a particular product or service exists but lacks supply or availability. It indicates an underserved market where potential customers seek a specific offering but cannot find it nearby. Businesses can target these gaps to capture market share and meet the unmet demand.

The process starts by defining the target market or the specific type of service or amenity being analyzed. After this initial step, a second area/market representing a reference point for the target market is also identified and defined. Then, using the available data, the void and gap analysis evaluates the existing market coverage and identifies areas with a significant gap or void compared to the reference areas.

We describe the boundaries of downtown Morgantown as thus: the north by Willey Street, which separates the downtown area from the campus ofWest Virginia University. The district is bound to the south by Sturgiss Street, which runs along Decker’s Creek, and to the west by University Avenue, which runs parallel to the Monongahela River. To the east, the district is bound by Spruce Street, which also runs along Decker’s Creek with bridges crossing over to the adjacentSouth Park Historic District. This area has 305 businesses.

Our reference areas are downtown Charlottesville, Virginia, Blacksburg, Virginia, and Asheville, North Carolina. These cities are University towns (University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, and the University of North Carolina in Asheville) in the same region as West Virginia University. We defined the boundaries for downtown Charlottesville and downtown Asheville on the ArcGIS map, as described by OpenAI’s ChatGPT, and cross-referenced these with Google Maps and these cities’ official sites.

Below, we summarize the gap and void analysis results in a set of tables. Where the reader observes the capital Greek Δ \Delta , this stands for change or difference in a quantity. The Greek ρ \rho denotes quantities associated with the density of an area. In the tables that follow, rows in gold indicate business sectors for which there exists a void. The tables are ordered so gaps appear at the top and are denoted by negative values under the “Gap” column. Rows in gold indicate gaps that are also voids.

2.1 Cautions and Limitations

The reader should understand that the tables represent gaps and voids in reference to the other cities only and should not be interpreted as standalone statements about what businesses to target for location in Morgantown. As such, these are sensitive to the geographical size of the comparison regions.Instead, the tables offer a way to think about business incentives within the suite of tools for broader economic development. In some cases, the main lessons to be drawn may pertain to infrastructure development, expansion of the downtown footprint, or other strategies not directly associated with attracting and locating businesses. In other words, demand-side strategies.

In some cases, the tables suggest strategies that may not align with the preferences of the local community for the types of businesses to attract to the area. We leave it to our elected officials, public administrators, and local business community to developstrategies that align with local business, cultural, and community priorities.

In addition, the analyses to follow are dependent on ESRI data, which itself is dependent on Data Axle. To the extent that these data are noisy or lag updating, our analyses will reflect those deficiencies. This report reflects the data as of late fall 2023. Exercise caution in areas or sectors that have undergone change in that time.

Finally, the gap and void analysis are geospatial ways of understanding business environments. While it is true that downtown areas have meaningful administrative boundaries, business communities are far more organic. This means the analyses to follow are heavily dependent on where these boundaries are drawn. The reader should understand that adjacent areas will have a heavy influence on the demand and supply of patrons, goods, and services on the ground. For example, Morgantown’s Phoenix Bakery is a thriving establishment just outside the boundaries of the downtown. The reader will note that a bakery is listed as one of the areas for gaps and voids. This type of local experience and reality should inform and buttress the understanding of the gap and void analyses below.

Table1 below compares Morgantown demographically with Blacksburg, Charlottesville, and Asheville. The table suggests that, demographically, Blacksburg is the best comparison for Morgantown. But, several features of the demographicdata are notable in understanding prospective investment in downtown Morgantown. First, geography is a limiting factor. Area-wise, Morgantown is less than half to one third the size of the other cities. This is a very real physical limit in terms of both attracting and maintaining businesses as well as expanding the infrastructure footprint of the downtown area. This puts a premium on areas and structures that are available for redevelopment, both in downtown and adjacent neighborhoods that may provide downtown traffic. Of course, two of these projects—Richwood redevelopment and the Warner Theater have been prominent in discussions in the past year.

Quantity of Interest Morgantown, WV Blacksburg, VA Charlottesville, VA Asheville, NC
Area (miles 2 ^2 ) 0.10 0.21 0.29 0.25
Population 655 564 2,066 1,451
Daytime Population 2,858 3,352 4,319 9,803
Median Age 22.5 23.6 35.7 52.7
% Δ \%\Delta Population -1.06 3.97 0.76 1.29
Average Household Size 1.2 1.7 2.0 2.0
Median Home Value $ 161,538 462,500 539,352 757,500
Per Capita Income $ 16,010 31,556 57,775 32,390
Median Household Income $ 26,213 32,041 65,294 23,961
Businesses 305 238 492 802

The second feature is population change. While the other cities grew in population slightly, Morgantown has lost a bit over one percent of itspopulation over the past year (we caution that these are estimates). This demographic feature of the city's changing social dynamics puts a premium on attracting visitors and patrons who may not live in or near the downtown area in the short term and envisioning strategies to grow the population in the long term. Trends in population decline in cities will be a more pressing problem as the century progresses, regionally and nationally (Sutradhar, Spearing, and Derrible 2024). Median age sets Morgantown and Blacksburg as more comparable than either are to the other cities. Of course, age in downtown has always been a headline issue with the proximity of WVU. This median age in downtown creates a tension between catering to this demographic or attractingpopulations from surrounding neighborhoods.

Table2 displays the business figures for Downtown Morgantown compared to the other cities. Despite its small geographic footprint, Morgantown contains more businesses than Blacksburg with slightly more sales revenue. The numbers for the ratio of employees to residents are informative in being much lower than Blacksburg. Charlottesville is the lowest, signifying more residents than employees in the downtown area. The types of businesses to be attracted or retained likely vary significantly with whether patrons are expected to be employees working downtown or residents living there. Again, these serve as baselines for discussions around economic development strategies that may vary in the degree to which they reinforce demographic features or alter them.

Quantity of Interest Morgantown, WV Blacksburg, VA Charlottesville, VA Asheville, NC
Businesses 305 238 492 802
Employees 2,620 3,459 5,407 10,291
Employees/Residents 400 613 262 709
Total Sales $1M 219,764 210,813 767,208 758,461

Geospatial analysis sheds some light on the underlying features of the downtown and surrounding areas. Below, we present three maps—population, median age, and per capita income. These speak tothe geographic challenges and opportunities for economic development and downtown investment. We encourage the reader to keep each of these in mind as they reason through the types of businesses the City hopes to attract and incentivize and the types of patrons expected for these businesses. Successful investment strategies should consider the tapestry of these features on the supply end for businesses and the demand side for consumers. These features stand apart from various exercisesin visioning the future of the downtown, but this visioning should be informed by them, if only as a starting point.

Institute for Policy Research and Public Affairs | Comparative Business Opportunities in Morgantown (2)

Figure1 displays the U.S. Census Bureau’s population estimates for Morgantown by block group.1 The population map shows that the more populated segments in Morgantown are outlying from the downtown area. Economic development and business incentives must either restructure these demographic features, which we think unlikely, or concentrate on attracting the neighborhoods to the city center. The reader should note that these higher population segments of town are not demographicmonoliths. The area around the South Park neighborhood or Greenmont differs greatly in terms of age and income from that of the Suncrest neighborhood, nearby Sabraton, or the northwest areas of the Morgantown area.

Figure2 displays the estimated median age by Census block group for Morgantown. Generally, the areas in and around the Downtown are comprised of younger residents. While numerous, they tend not to have disposable income that would allow spending on goods and services typical of downtown areas. Given current discussions around downtown development and business incentives, the target areas containing age groups able to contribute to a more economically vibrant downtown are to the south and east in neighborhoods like First Ward, Greenmont, and Woodburn. South Park, with perhaps the most disposable income is demographically older compared to these other surrounding neighborhoods.

Institute for Policy Research and Public Affairs | Comparative Business Opportunities in Morgantown (3)

Figure3 displays the per capita income in thousands for Census block groups in Morgantown. This final map brings us to an important point. As of 2022, the downtown remains younger and of lower means than many of the surrounding areas. The highest per capita income nearest to downtown is the South Park area. But we would also draw attention to Woodburn, First Ward, and beyond as areas where residents likely have income to spend downtown. In all of these maps, it is notable that Sabraton contains populations in the age range and with income to support downtown businesses. Given these maps, development strategies that bring in residents and non-residentsdowntown will likely have a greater impact than resisting such demographic features. Morgantown has evolved into a city defined by its neighborhoods. Increasing their connectivity to one another and to downtown will bring the greatest impacts.

Institute for Policy Research and Public Affairs | Comparative Business Opportunities in Morgantown (4)

In this section, we present the gap and void analysis results in tables based on the city serving as the basis for comparison. We proceed in this manner for ease of presentation, but we urge the reader to analyze and compare across tables for voids and gaps. While any one city can only be so informative, voids and gaps appearing across all comparisons, seem to us to present a strong case for aconcerted effort among the City, the Partnership, and Main Street Morgantown. The reader will also note that, in the case of voids, there may be good, well-founded local reasons why this is the case. Culture and context matter. The local business community, residents, and their elected officials no doubt have a vision of what they would like downtown to be in the future. So, these tables don’t contain certainties so much as suggestions about likely sectors to target.

The tables are organized by market gaps and sectors. The sectors with the greatest gaps appear at the top and descend by the size of the estimated gap. Table rows in gold signify areas where specific goods or services are voids. These do not necessarily mean there are no businesses within these sectors in town, but these may by areas of excess demand unlikely to be met by the current suite of businesses. The lower portion of the tables, ordered by gap, are sectors for which Morgantown is on par with the other cities or has an excess of businesses within a certain sector compared to other cities. Estimated excesses do not imply that the committee should not incentivize businesses like these. Again, local context matters. A new bar on North High Street will likely meet with success, regardless of whether there is an excess of bars in the area. Finally, tables for Charlottesville and Asheville are considerably longer, owing to their greater size and diversity. For each table, we identify areas that seem to us to be promising for discussion and leave the reader and our local leaders to digest the others.

4.1 Blacksburg, Virginia

Blacksburg, Virginia, is the city in this analysis group most comparable to Morgantown. Table3 displays the gap and void analysis for Blacksburg. Morgantown fares well in comparison to Blacksburg across most business sectors. All gaps identified in comparison with Blacksburg were also estimated as voids for this comparison. This means the analysis suggests these areas should be taken seriously when tailoring public policy to developing downtown.

One need not focus on the specific labeling of the business sectorsbut should understand them in terms of the general types of businesses that might fit these classifications. In general, Table3 suggests a greater focus on retail, especially retail food (i.e., separate from restaurants) and lodging. If downtown growth is to be spurred by visitors, then greater availability of lodging centered in downtown will no doubt help business growth there. It is important to note that the table suggests the need for franchise businesses downtown. This is often a point of contention in discussions around the types of businesses, culturally, that the city envisions for its future.

Re-energizing downtown will require balancing these more stable businesses with those derived locally. This is a microcosm of larger debates around the state and region concerning nurturing a local basis for the economy versus attracting larger sectors with more capital. National chains and “anchor” businesses have some role to play. Recent additions like Starbucks and Primantis fit this mold and should be balanced with ventures focusing on arts, crafts, and local food.

Sectors Gap Δ \Delta Expected Δ \Delta Density Analysis Area E(Analysis Area) Analysis Area ρ \rho Reference Area Reference Area ρ \rho
Convenience Stores -2 -2 -282 0 2 0 2 282
Cookie Shops -1 -1 -564 0 1 0 1 564
Sporting Goods -1 -1 -564 0 1 0 1 564
Bed & Breakfast -1 -1 -564 0 0 1 564
Hotel & Motel Management -1 -1 -564 0 1 0 1 564
Real Estate -1 -1 -564 0 1 0 1 564
Oil Land Leases -1 -1 -564 0 1 0 1 564
Franchising -1 -1 -564 0 1 0 1 564
Ice Cream Parlors 0 0 0 1 1 1 1 564
Big Box 0 0 -21 1 543 1 564
Clothing 0 0 -91 1 1 655 1 564
Museums 0 0 46 2 2 328 2 282
Dentists 0 0 -91 1 1 655 1 564
Financial Advisory 0 0 91 1 1 655 1 564
Caterers 1 1 655 1 0 655 0 0
Women’s Apparel 1 1 655 1 0 655 0 0
Grocers 1 1 655 1 0 655 0 0
Coffee Shops 1 -1 -237 2 1 328 1 564
Restaurants 1 -1 3 15 16 44 14 40
Theatres-Live 1 1 -237 2 1 328 1 564
Live Entertainment 1 1 655 1 0 655 0 0
Billiard Parlors 1 1 655 1 0 655 0 0
Home Health 1 1 655 1 0 655 0 0
Mental Health 1 1 655 1 0 655 0 0
Loans 1 1 655 1 0 655 0 0
Hotels & Motels 2 2 327 2 0 327 0 0
Banks 3 3 -400 4 1 164 1 564
Bars 6 6 -470 7 1 94 1 564

4.1.1 Key Details

  • The demographic characteristic in downtown Blacksburg is “College Towns,” according to ESRI, with the median age being 24.5. This is not much different from our analysis area with a median age of 22.5. This may reflect a greater quantity of graduate students or non-traditional students.

  • Compared to Blacksburg, Virginia, the voids are convenience stores, cookie shops, ice cream parlors, sporting goods retail, bed and breakfast, and lodging.

  • Five business sectors are on balance with their equivalents in Blacksburg, while there is a surplus of financial institutions, lodging, and bars.

4.2 Charlottesville, Virginia

Table4 displays the gap and void analysis for comparison with Charlottesville, Virginia. As for Blacksburg, the table suggests retail shops around textiles and food are areas for potential growth in the downtown. Because Charlottesville is a larger city, these sectors are more detailed. We think it is important to note that many of the sectors highlighted relate strongly to an arts and culture orientation. Particularly, note the deficiency of entertainment producers and arts organizations. Regarding retail food (again, not restaurants), the absence of grocers, bakers (see above reference to Phoenix Bakery), and juice bars are similar to the takeaways from Table3.

Table4 also suggests gaps and voids for textile retailers, much like for Blacksburg. An interesting feature of the table is the collection of goods and services centered around the outdoors, recreation, and increased physical activity. Downtown’s geographical footprint is small in comparison. This makes physical space for things like parks difficult. But, the retail outgrowth of physical activity and recreation seems a promising area for economic growth in the downtown. This feature also meshes well with larger transitions to a recreational economy in the state and likely fits better with strategies to attract visitors.

Sectors Gap Δ \Delta Expected Δ \Delta Density Analysis Area E(Analysis Area) Analysis Area ρ \rho Reference Area Reference Area ρ \rho
Restaurants -15 5 -25 15 10 44 30 69
Health Clubs & Gyms -7 -2 -295 0 2 0 7 295
Financial Advisory -6 -1 360 1 2 655 7 295
Stock & Bond Brokers -3 -1 -688 0 1 0 3 688
Grocers -2 0 -34 1 1 655 3 689
Retail Shops -2 -1 -1,033 0 0 2 1,033
Investments -2 -1 -1033 0 1 0 2 1,033
Investments -2 -1 -1 0 1 0 2 1
Clinics -2 -1 -1 0 1 0 2 1
Entertainment Producers -2 -1 -1 0 1 0 2 1
Entertainment Bureaus -2 -1 -1 0 1 0 2 1
Arenas & Athletic Fields -2 -1 -1 0 1 0 2 1
Ice Cream Parlors -1 0 -2 0 0 0 1 2
Juice Bars -1 0 -2 0 0 0 1 2
Men’s Clothing -1 0 -2,066 0 0 1 2,066
Bakers -1 0 -2 0 0 1 2
General Merchandise -1 0 -2,066 0 0 1 2,066
Credit Unions -1 0 -2 0 0 0 1 2
Real Estate Loans -1 0 -2 0 0 0 1 2
Optometrists OD -1 0 -2 0 0 0 1 2
Hotel & Motel Management -1 0 -2 0 0 0 1 2
Dancing Instruction -1 0 -2 0 0 0 1 2
Rowing Clubs -1 0 -2 0 0 0 1 2
Yoga Instruction -1 0 -2 0 0 0 1 2
Parks -1 0 -2 0 0 0 1 2,066
Psychic Mediums -1 0 -2 0 0 0 1 2,066
Swimming Instruction -1 0 -2 0 0 0 1 2,066
Arts Organizations -1 0 -2 0 0 0 1 2,066
Caterers 0 1 -1 1 0 655 1 2,066
Big Box 0 1 -1,523 1 543 1 2,066
Clothing 0 1 -1 1 655 1 2,066
Coffee Shops 1 2 -1 2 0 328 1 2
Women’s Apparel 1 1 655 1 0 655 0 0
Holding Companies (Non-Bank) 1 2 -1 2 0 328 1 2
Loans 1 1 655 1 0 655 0 0
Dentists 1 1 655 1 0 655 0 0
Mental Health 1 1 655 1 0 655 0 0
Home Health 1 1 543 1 543 0 0
Hotels & Motels 1 2 -1 2 0 328 1 2
Live Entertainment 1 1 655 1 0 655 0 0
Billiard Parlors 1 1 655 1 0 655 0 0
Banks 2 3 -869 4 1 164 2 1,033
Theatres-Live 2 2 327 2 0 327 0 0
Museums 2 2 327 2 0 327 0 0
Bars 7 7 78 7 78 0 0

4.2.1 Key Details

  • Charlottesville is almost three times larger than downtown Morgantown in square miles and has a population three times bigger than Morgantown. Hence, any gaps or voids we observe should be viewed through the lens of these differences.

  • The largest demographic (60%) in Downtown Charlottesville is the “Set to Impress” demographic, consisting of residents aged 20 to 34 years who are enrolled in college for both undergraduate and graduate degrees. For reference, the median age in the City of Charlottesville is 37.4. For our comparison, downtown Morgantown’s dominant demographic is the “Dorms to Diplomas,” the youngest demographic aged 20-24 and a median age of 22.5 (primarily undergraduate students).

  • The sectors shaded gold are not just gaps, but voids—meaning there is also an active demand for those businesses in downtown Morgantown. Retail shops, clinics, investment brokers, and entertainment have the highest voids.

  • A 0-gap analysis means an equal number of businesses in the reference and analysis areas, i.e., downtown Charlottesville and downtown Morgantown. A zero gap means there is a balance between downtown Morgantown and downtown Charlottesville after factoring in the difference in population in both locations.

  • A positive value under the gap column implies a surplus of that business in Morgantown compared to Charlottesville. Note that a surplus value can mean anything based on the context that the demographics in Charlottesville and Morgantown have different needs for goods and services. Bars have the highest surplus with 7.

  • The unshaded negative values are typical gaps; fewer businesses are in the analysis area than in the reference area. Restaurants have the gap, while Grocers retail have the lowest with -2.

4.3 Asheville, North Carolina

Table5 displays the results of the gap and void analysis for comparison with Asheville, North Carolina. Looking down the table, retail food and textiles are again prominent on the list. Restaurants also play heavily in the results here. The key debate concerns what type of restaurants as there is tremendous range in income demographics possible—there are largely no upscale restaurants or bars downtown. Newer additions in the past year cater mostly to younger and lower-income residents from surrounding areas and heavily depend on the student population.

As with Charlottesville, businesses centering on culture, the arts, and entertainment figure prominently in the table below. Combined with sectors based on recreation and physical activity, the visitor and tourist sectors, broadly speaking, figure prominently in our findings and should inform planning and public policy regarding economic development.

One sector that is surprising in deficiency from the downtown is clinics, optometrists, mental health services, and other medical facilities. One way to think about such business sectors is that, like grocers, they draw traffic to downtown which likely will lead to additional shopping and purchasing in the area. In other words, some of these business sectors attract residents and visitors directly, others incorporate daily routines that likely are beneficial to all other sectors. This distinction should enter the discussion of planning for economic development and a more vibrant downtown area.

Sectors Gap Δ \Delta Expected Δ \Delta Density Analysis Area E(Analysis Area) Analysis Area ρ \rho Reference Area Reference Area ρ \rho
Restaurants -45 -12 19 15 27 44 60 24
Hotels & Motels -10 -3 207 2 5 328 12 121
Financial Advisory -8 -3 494 1 4 655 9 161
Women’s Apparel -7 -3 474 1 4 655 8 181
Clothing-Retail -7 -3 474 1 4 655 8 181
Coffee Shops -6 -2 146 2 4 328 8 181
Investments -6 -3 -241 0 3 0 6 241
Candy & Confectionery -3 -1 -483 0 1 0 3 483
Shopping Centers & Malls -3 -1 -484 0 0 3 484
Real Estate Loans -3 -1 -483 0 1 0 3 483
Hotel & Motel Management -3 -1 -483 0 1 0 3 483
Bars -2 3 -68 7 4 94 9 161
Men’s Clothing & Furnishings -2 -1 -725 0 1 0 2 725
Shoes -2 -1 -725 0 1 0 2 725
Banks -2 1 -78 4 3 164 6 242
Clinics -2 -1 -725 0 1 0 2 725
Parks -2 -1 -725 0 1 0 2 725
Museums -2 0 -35 2 2 328 4 363
Produce-Retail -1 0 -1 0 0 0 1 1
Spices -1 0 -1 0 0 0 1 1
Coffee & Tea -1 0 -1 0 0 0 1 1
Caterers -1 0 -71 1 1 655 2 726
Ice Cream Parlors -1 0 -1 0 0 0 1 1
Pizza -1 0 -1 0 0 0 1 1
Restaurant Management -1 0 -1 0 0 0 1 1,451
co*cktail Lounges -1 0 -1 0 0 0 1 1
General Merchandise -1 0 -1 0 0 0 1 1
Holding Companies (Non-Bank) -1 -1 -156 2 1 328 3 484
Credit Unions -1 0 -1 0 0 0 1 1
Financing -1 0 -1 0 0 0 1 1
Investment Securities -1 0 -1 0 0 0 1 1
Financial Planning Consultants -1 0 -1 0 0 0 1 1
Holding Companies (Bank) -1 0 -1 0 0 0 1 1
Franchising -1 0 -1 0 0 0 1 1
Investors Other -1 0 -1 0 0 0 1 1
Medical Centers -1 0 -1 0 0 0 1 1
Resorts -1 0 -1 0 0 0 1 1
Hostels -1 0 -1 0 0 0 1 1
Video Tapes & Discs -1 0 -1 0 0 0 1 1
Theatres-Live -1 1 -156 2 1 328 3 484
Entertainment Bureaus -1 0 -1 0 0 0 1 1
Amusem*nt Devices -1 0 -1 0 0 0 1 1
Health Spas -1 0 -1 0 0 0 1 1
Balloons-Manned -1 0 -1 0 0 0 1 1
Tourist Attractions -1 0 -1 0 0 0 1 1
Arts Organizations -1 0 -1 0 0 0 1 1
Art -1 0 -1 0 0 0 1 1
Night Clubs 0 1 -796 1 0 655 1 1
Loans 0 1 -796 1 0 655 1 1
Mental Health 0 1 -796 1 0 655 1 1
Grocers 1 1 655 1 0 655 0 0
Dentists 1 1 655 1 0 655 0 0
Home Health 1 1 655 1 0 655 0 0
Live Entertainment 1 1 655 1 0 655 0 0
Billiard Parlors 1 1 655 1 0 655 0 0

4.3.1 Key Details

  • When we switch our reference area to downtown Asheville, North Carolina, we see a similar story. Downtown Asheville is more than twice the area and population of downtown Morgantown.

  • The dominant demographic in downtown Asheville is 65 and older (Social Security set), although the median age is 47. For reference, the median age for the city of Asheville is 40, primarily single with a college degree. This information is markedly vital to analysis since it creates an age gap between our analysis and reference areas. The median age for the analysis area is 22.5.

  • As in our previous example, the gold parts of this table are the voids for our analysis of Asheville. Our most significant voids are food retail, clothing, investment firms, clinics, parks, and lodging. Note that since we are juxtaposing with businesses present only in our reference area, some sectors are present in Morgantown but not present in the reference area are excluded from our analysis.

  • Restaurants have the highest gaps again. A -45 gap, even after accommodating the difference in area and daylight population in both cities, signifies an enormous potential for investment in restaurants in downtown Morgantown. Differentiating what type of restaurant is needed is a cause for further market research for potential investors.

We discuss some specifics for each comparison in the tables and sections above. Much of the findings available in the analysis we leave to the expert reader and our community leaders. We do think there are some general considerations that should inform discussions about economic vitality in the downtown with a few clear takeaways. These are general conclusions based on our analysis. We offer some additional insights on specific categories in Section5.1 below.

  • Retail food and clothing is a common thread across city comparisons.

  • Restaurants are a notable sector but they require both an understanding of how these might differ from current establishments and whether they serve different patrons, demographically, than existing establishments.

  • Arts, culture, entertainment, and recreation/physical activity are promising sectors for further development in the downtown area. Collectively, these fit under a broader umbrella of tourism and attracting visitors both from local neighborhoods and other states and regions.

  • There should be more attention and discussion on the differences between businesses that will directly attract visitors near and farand those that will fit within daily routines and spur indirect spending downtown (e.g., healthcare goods and services or grocers).

  • National demographic trends in which the majority of cities in the West will lose population in the coming decades will profoundly shape the nature of these development strategies. Likely, this means pushing them to be more visitor/tourist oriented.

  • The current demographics of Morgantown make growing the downtown challenging but offer clear distinctions among strategies. While these tensions have bubbled below the surface for some time, we think explicating them here brings the clarity of data to the discussion. In addition, most thinking has gone into the supply-side of the economic development equation. Much more work is necessary on the demand-side if economic development is to attract visitors to Morgantown as suggested by the analyses above. In much broader role for social science here is certainly warranted.

  • We think it unlikely that Morgantown will meets its economic development goals without incorporating a mix of investment among national and local players. This puts a premium on elected officials and business leaders to navigate this ongoing tension between differing development visions for the downtown.

  • To marry some of the interpretations above, especially regarding malls, a modern shopping mall must cater to diverse consumer preferences. We think it more useful to think about clusters of shopping rather than a traditional mall and on a smaller scale.

  • The data above has shown a void for a medical center and an optometrist. In addition, voids also appear in larger Monongalia County for medical centers and optometrists compared to Albemarle County, Virginia. These gaps may provide fodder for collaborative efforts with the Monongalia Health System and the West Virginia University Health System.

5.1 Category Details

  • All comparisons to reference areas show that downtown Morgantown has a void for restaurants. There is one surplus between Morgantown and Blacksburg, a -45-gap compared to Asheville, and a -15-gap compared to Charlottesville. Calculating to adjust for a more extensive area size and population, downtown Morgantown could still do with more restaurants because it is underserved.The key question revolves around what type of restaurants to attract and incentivize given the committee’s vision for economic development.

  • Moreover, restaurants are under a more extensive “Eating Places” category according to NAICS categorization. Other businesses under this category include caterers, food service kiosks, Ice-cream parlors, juice bars, virtual kitchens, etc. Ice cream parlors, coffee shops, candy, and confectionary retail appear as voids and gaps across the three reference areas. This implies adequate demand for new and more existing businesses in downtown Morgantown.

  • Examples of the “Drinking Places” category include bars, co*cktail lounges, nightclubs, karaoke clubs, comedy clubs, discotheques, etc. Asheville is the only reference city where drinking places create gaps and voids for downtown Morgantown. Again, context matters. While Morgantown is a mecca for craft beer, options for wine and spirits are far more limited with respect to older patrons with more disposable income.

  • The NAICS category of “Clothing retail” includes stores that sell men’s and women’s clothing and furnishings. When compared to Charlottesville, there is a -1 void for men’s retail; when compared to Asheville, there is a –2 void. There is no data to compare in Blacksburg since downtown Blacksburg has no men’s clothing retail store. For women’s clothing retailers, there is a surplus of one each compared to Blacksburg and Charlottesville, while there is a gap of -7 compared to Asheville.

  • The ’department stores and malls” category, also called a Big Box, refers to businesses that are department stores, home centers, shopping centers and malls, and wholesale clubs. These businesses could either be franchises or not. Like Blacksburg and Charlottesville, downtown Morgantown has no gaps for shopping centers and malls. However, there is a -3 void in downtown Morgantown with Asheville as a reference area. This disparity in demand may be because malls are situated in other parts of the city. For example, the wider city of Charlottesville has nine establishments that qualify as shopping centers and malls. When a void analysis was performed city-to-city between Morgantown and Charlottesville, Morgantown had a void of -1, meaning there is a market for one more shopping center and mall in Morgantown in that aspect.

  • The “Financial institution” category refers to banks, credit unions, financial planning houses, insurance companies, investment companies, and Real Estate companies. There is a void for investment firms, except for Blacksburg. Moreover, all analyses yield a surplus of banks in downtown Morgantown. The voids exist in credit unions and investment companies when Asheville and Charlottesville are the reference points. As a reference point, Blacksburg shows a surplus of banks and financial planning houses in downtown Morgantown and a gap for real estate companies. The most prominent is void for Real Estate Loans, which shows up across all three analyses.

  • Healthcare categories include Clinics, Dentists, Home Health Services, Hospitals, Medical centers, Mental health services, Optometrists. However, voids exist for clinics, medical centers and optometrists when compared to Charlottesville and Asheville.

  • The category “Recreation and Entertainment” includes businesses like cinemas, live theaters, health clubs, dance studios, sports clubs, athletic fields, gyms, museums, etc. This category in downtown Morgantown has voids for a gymnasium, an athletic pitch, rowing clubs, yoga instructors, entertainment bureaus, etc. compared to Charlottesville. It also has one surplus of live entertainment. Compared to Asheville, there are voids for resorts, hostels, parks, amusem*nt devices, etc.

  • The “Hospitality” category represents hotel businesses, rooming and boarding houses, hotel management companies, bed, and breakfast accommodations, etc. Two of three reference areas showed hotel management voids in downtown Morgantown.

5.2 Limitations and Future Analysis

In addition to the cautions offered in Section2.1, we offer some thoughts about this analysis and future efforts to understand how best to maintain and develop the vibrancy in Downtown Morgantown.

  • We did not choose the types of business classifications to delineate in the analysis above. These are stock NAICS classifications taken from the ESRI data. A much clearer picture would emerge with a custom-tailored classification system for businesses, either developed here or borrowed from an existing scheme. Likewise, the focus of analysis could adjust for broad categories of investment—like recreation or culture—with much finer grained classifications within these categories.

  • Demographically, Charlottesville and Asheville are far different cities than Morgantown or Blacksburg. They are older, more populous, and better resourced. Our slate of comparisons were taken at the suggestion of the Economic Vitality Committee as a first stab at generating a better understanding of how Morgantown compares to its neighbors in the region. Analyses like those above are useful for starting conversations about economic development strategies, but they should also be useful in stopping some conversations. It is unlikely that Asheville, for instance, should be a point of comparison for Morgantown, even in an aspirational sense.

  • Speaking of other cities, we think future studies would do well to look west at Athens, Marrietta, or Youngstown in Ohio and at Huntington and Charleston, West Virginia.

    • As a related point, Morgantown’s relative placement in proximity to Pittsburgh greatly influences economic development possibilities. Similarly situated cities as points of comparisons would likely prove useful.
  • Speaking of new analyses, we would recommend this analysis be undertaken annually to provide context for ongoing economic development efforts in the downtown area and additionally city-wide.

The Rockefeller Institute for Policy Research and Public Affairs (IPRPA) in Eberly College at WVU is a non-partisan source of research, data, and analysis for state and local officials in West Virginia and the broader Appalachian region. IPRPA conducts basic and applied research on various problems important to the region and related to public policy and broader social, political, and economic transitions.

We employ the full range of qualitative and quantitative research methodologies to societal problems to help public, non-profit, and private sector partners plan, strategize, and adapt to changes and challenges in the region, be they physical or biological, economic, governmental, or societal. We have extensive expertise in developing and maintaining large-scale data infrastructures to answer fundamental questions about public policy and its effects on communities. Our partnerships span the public, nonprofit, and private sectors and develop research co-designed with our stakeholders, clients, and communities, improving the use of research and data-driven decision-making in tackling important policy problems. The Institute aims to spur evidence-based policymaking and uptake of research in the state and region.

Please contact the Institute for Policy Research and Public Affairs (IPRPA) for questions and technical assistance in pursuing any recommendations outlined here.

6.1 How to Cite This Report

Runsewe, Oreoluwa and Samuel Workman. 2024. “Comparative Business Opportunities: A Gap and Void Analysis of the City of Morgantown.” Institute for Policy Research and Public Affairs (IPRPA). IPRPA-2024-007.

6.2 Our Visualizations and Media

All tables and data visualizations in this report are available. Please get in touch with us here:

This report is issued at the request of the Main Street Morgantown, the City of Morgantown, and the Morgantown Area Partnership. Eberly College provided support for the study. Errors in content, style, or judgment in the report remain with the Institute for Policy Research and Public Affairs (IPRPA) at West Virginia University.

Sutradhar, Uttara, Lauryn Spearing, and Sybil Derrible. 2024. “Depopulation and Associated Challenges for US Cities by 2100.” Nature Cities 1 (1): 51–61.

  1. The block group is typically the most granular level of estimates released by the Census. These figures are from the American Community Survey 5-year estimates and should be treated as such. The Census now also enters random “white noise” error to the data for purposes of protecting identities of respondents. See details. ↩︎

Institute for Policy Research and Public Affairs | Comparative Business Opportunities in Morgantown (2024)
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