Shale gas impact growing local economy
STEUBENVILLE — The shale gas industry’s impact on the Weirton-Steubenville metropolitan area is expanding.
The Associated General Contractors of America reported the largest percentage gain in construction jobs in the nation — 26 percent, or 500 jobs — occurred in the Weirton-Steubenville corridor, which consists of Brooke and Hancock counties in West Virginia and Jefferson County in Ohio.
AGCA said there are now 2,400 people working in the construction industry in the Weirton-Steubenville corridor, up from 1,900.
“It tells you we’re reaping the benefits of the growth in the shale gas industry,” said Pat Ford, executive director of the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle, citing investments in public infrastructure, pipelines and private investments in energy, the chemical industry, value-added metals, transportation logistics, and retail services.
All that comes to a $1.5 billion investment in the area (during the last 10 years). Of that $1.5 billion, there’s been $300 million in road construction and infrastructure — about $20 million of it routine maintenance as well as $100 million in pipeline construction.
Planning for those investments began probably a decade ago, he added.
“We’re reaping the benefits now of that planning and being at the center of one of the largest shale gas reserves in the world,” Ford said.
Ed Looman, Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth’s project manager for Eastern Ohio, which includes Jefferson, Harrison, Carroll, Holmes, Coshocton, Guernsey, and Belmont counties, said it’s good news for the area, “something positive we can hang our hat on going into the new year.”
“There is activity in our region, on both sides of river, and that’s requiring more trade workers,” Looman said. “I’m sure the cracker in Beaver County has something to do with that. As we look forward to the anticipated announcement of PTT coming early in 2019, it will mean even more for construction.”
Royal Dutch Shell is already building a $6 to $8 billion ethane cracker in nearby Monaca, while PTT Global, headquartered in Thailand, has been evaluating the viability of building a $6 billion ethane cracker in Dilles Bottom, Belmont County. PTT has teamed with Daelim Industrial, a South Korean firm, to get the cracker built.
“Then you’ve got the anticipated groundbreaking in 2019, hopefully by the end of the first quarter, of two additional gas-to-electric plants, one in Harrison County the other in Monroe County,” he said, pointing out groundbreaking is projected “late in the first quarter.”
Ford pointed out that while construction work is temporary in and of itself, they lead to permanent jobs.
The Weirton-Steubenville metropolitan area’s strong construction job grown has outpaced “the vast majority of metro areas over the past five years,” Ford said.
Adding the most construction jobs during the past year — 24,000 jobs, an 11 percent increase — was the Houston- Woodlands-Sugar Land, Texas metro area.
Overall, construction employment between November 2017 and November 2018 grew in 265 of 358, or 74 percent, of metro areas in the nation, declined in 45 and was unchanged in 48, according to AGCA’s analysis of federal employment data. AGCA officials, however, say employment gains may be tapering off because contractors cannot find enough qualified workers.
“Construction employment growth remains widespread, but as unemployment hits historic lows in many metros, contractors are having ever-increasing difficulty filling positions,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “As a result, construction employment may level off in more areas, even while the demand for projects — and workers — continues to be strong.”
Specifically, Ford pointed to new construction in the region, including: Three Springs Crossings, Pietro Fiorentini, Village at Colliers Way, and an extension of Park Drive in Weirton; construction of a new bridge spanning the Ohio River, Beech Bottom Industrial Park, Steubenville’s Franciscan Square and JSW Steel in Mingo Junction “contributed in large part to the gains in construction jobs.”
BDC Board Chairman William D’Alesio said the Ohio River Valley “is one of the best places in the region to get a good job.”
“We are diligent in our efforts to create partnerships that encourage economic opportunities and position our tri-county area as a great place for business,” D’Alesio said. “The BDC looks forward to continuing this success with our partners in the coming months.”