STEUBENVILLE The shale boom could easily be an opportunity lost if the community isn't prepared to supply the goods and services that will be needed to meet the demand, local leaders say.
"It's been happening across the nation, and we can learn from other communities," said Sue Hershey, president of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce. "We have the advantage of knowing the process they underwent, see how they maximized the opportunities."
Hershey said chamber leaders in other shale-rich areas told her that once drilling starts, downstream development will be rapid. "They said in about a year or so you'll start to see an influx of people," she said. "Our drilling has already started, and we need to be ready I don't think the community is cognizant of the changes that are going to occur."
The Chamber and Project Alliance are working together to get the word out about several events aimed at increasing public awareness of what the shale oil and gas boom will bring to the Upper Ohio Valley:
The Chamber's Oct. 20 luncheon meeting will feature Tom Stewart, executive vice president of the Ohio Oil & Gas Association. OOGA represents the interests of more than 1,400 members statewide who are actively involved in the exploration, development or production of crude oil and natural gas in Ohio.
The luncheon, sponsored by Frontier Communications, is set for noon at the Steubenville Country Club. Reservations must be made through the chamber office at 740.282.6226.
Project Alliance hopes to play matchmaker between local business owners and the oil- and gas-companies that will be working in the area at a Business-to-Business Expo Dec. 6 at St. Florian Hall.
There's also an Oil & Gas Forum for the general public Thursday beginning at 10 a.m. at Eastern Gateway Community College.
U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, a member of the House Committee on Natural Resources and subcommittee on Energy and mineral Resources, and Stewart will be part of the forum, which will focus on the approaching economic opportunities likely to result from shale development, as well as job creation, land leasing, geographical findings and drilling technology.
"We want to capitalize on the opportunity for local businesses to get involved," Project Alliance Executive Director Ed Looman said. "They've already got a list of companies coming here and where they'll spend their money ... they'll need to buy tires and supplies, they'll need to hire construction companies and caterers ... it will be a chance for local businesses to communicate, to get a feel for where they'll fit when (the boom) gets here."
Looman said education is a big part of the planning: Both Eastern Gateway Community College and West Virginia Northern Community College are part of a three-state educational consortium developing standardized training for oil and gas workers through a $5 million community-based job training grant.
Looman said they're also working with the Oil & Gas Association to develop a seminar for business startups.
"From our end, we want to make sure Jefferson county is ready," he said. "I've been spending a lot of time with people who are telling me in two, three, maybe four years time, we won't recognize the county. Whether they're right remains to be seen, but I think it's the next opportunity for Jefferson County. If you look back in history, we had potteries, then it was coal, then it was steel ... This is the next step for our county. The more information that can be (disseminated), the more opportunities that will arise and the more folks will understand what a huge opportunity is coming our way."