Economic Development

Conference Looks at Developing Industry Along Ohio River Corridor

EAST LIVERPOOL, Ohio – The wrapper around a Hershey Milk Chocolate Bar, the green-turtle-shaped sandbox that Little Tikes sells, and the Goodyear tires on a car are all made from plastics manufactured at petrochemical plants.

And it’s those types of plants – and the petrochemical industry in general – that economic development leaders in the Ohio River Valley are working together to attract.

The impetus is the construction of Shell Chemical Appalachia LLC’s $6 billion ethane “cracker” complex along the Ohio River near Monaca, Pa., as well as PTT Global Chemical’s proposed ethane cracker plant in Belmont County, and Braskem’s proposed cracker plant in Wood County, W.Va.

“We’re sitting on vast amounts of feedstock that can manufacture these every day products,” said Jackie Stewart, director in the strategic communications segment at FTI Consulting and spokesman for the advocacy group Energy in Depth. “It all starts in this region and it all starts at the drilling well.”

Stewart pointed to the numerous natural-gas fueled electricity plants under construction in the Appalachian Basin that are estimated to create 21,000 jobs and $21 billion in total investment.

She was one of 14 speakers who addressed the Ohio River Corridor Development Conference Wednesday at the East Liverpool Country Club.

The conference was convened by the Columbiana County Port Authority in conjunction with NAI Spring and Ohio River Corridor Inc. It gave regional officials a chance to network and highlighted the collaborations between development organizations in the tri-state area.

“Economic development is a combat sport. But we cannot just sit and wait for a fourth and fifth cracker plant,” said Patrick Ford, executive director of the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia. “We need to have a bigger footprint and to do this collaboration is key.”

Ford noted that the unemployment rate in Brooke and Hancock counties in West Virginia was 13.7% in 2010 before the first natural gas well was drilled in the Marcellus shale play. Now the unemployment rate is at 4.9%.

“The Ohio River Valley is not someone’s back office. The Ohio River Valley is not someone’s weekend retreat,” Ford said. “We are industry.”

Mark Locker, project manager for maritime, freight, mobility and logistics for the Division of Planning in the Ohio Department of Transportation, reported natural gas production was 19 times greater in 2016 then in 2011. Petrochemicals, petroleum and chemicals make up 40% of the total volume of cargo moved on the Ohio River. “Once you get it on the barge on the river, you can transport it great distances,” he said, all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

Larry Merry, executive director of Belmont County Port Authority, gave an update on PTT Global Chemical’s proposed $6 billion ethane cracker plant that would be built in Belmont County. “Everything is continuing just as it’s been planned. I’m very hopeful and very optimistic,” he said.

PTT Global is working with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to secure the necessary permits. “Almost all permits are done and wrapped up,” said Laurie Stevenson, OEPA deputy director for business relations. “There’s been no appeals on permits that have been issued.”

“Ohio ranks as fourth in the nation in the number of manufacturing operations and is one of the top states in the number of permits processed for industries,” Stevenson continued. She highlighted the resources that Ohio EPA brings to businesses in the region, which include efficient and timely issues of permits.

With most of the environmental permits already completed for PTT Global’s cracker plant, Merry said it’s likely a final investment decision will be made by early next year on whether the project moves forward.

If the plant is built, “It’s going to be a dramatic impact,” he said. “We need to be able to capture this opportunity, refine this product here and then produce product with it, and that’s where the jobs and job creation are at.”

Other speakers represented counties along the Ohio River in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, as well as economic development and environmental agencies.

“I think the collaboration piece is huge, having all my partners here in one room talking about the future of the tri-state area,” said the Columbiana County Port Authority’s CEO, Penny Traina.

“The biggest economic boost to the area would be jobs,” she said. “We are looking forward to enhancing the workforce and getting training out there and more importantly the growth of industry in the Appalachian Basin.”

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Nov. 8, 2017: Shell Begins Construction on Main Phase of Cracker Plant

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.