Wherever she looks, Lauren Hotaling can see change.
"I grew up in this area," said Hotaling, the economic development manager for Bradford County, Pa. "Back when I was in high school, I remember trying to get a minimum wage job, even in fast food or retail, and there just weren't any available. Now, I see a lot of 'Help Wanted' signs ... Employers are having trouble keeping people. I think some of our manufacturers have actually upped the pay for some positions just to keep people."
Bradford County is in Northeastern Pennsylvania, very near the New York state line and in the heart of the Commonwealth's shale oil and gas play. It is, by any definition, a flourishing community: Hotels are booked solid, parking lots are full. Restaurants that a few years ago allowed patrons to seat themselves now have a wait list. Companies are moving to the community, existing businesses are expanding, new ones have opened.
Shale development has brought sweeping change to communities in Pennsylvania, where drilling has been under way for several years. In Waynesburg, Pa., local leaders say the shale boom has led to congested roadways as well as a shortage of apartments to house shale gas and related workers. - Linda Harris
It is, unquestionably, a time of plenty, though not everyone in the county of 62,622 is sharing in the wealth. Nor has the community's newfound prosperity been altogether painless.
"Traffic is horrendous," Bradford County Commissioner John Sullivan recounts. "Trying to go to and from places ... it used to be that I could get home after meetings in 7-10 minutes; Now, a lot of days it can take a half-hour to 45 minutes. It's an inconvenience, and a lot of people who aren't even getting royalty checks are having to deal with it. If you came here as an outsider, you probably wouldn't notice. But if you were here five years ago, you'd see it. It's pretty obvious."
Rents are a problem, too. Landlords anxious to capitalize on the opportunities the shale boom is bringing their way are boosting rents beyond what the general population can afford to pay. Sullivan said the jail is full, though he says he can't say for certain that the increase in inmate population is solely because of shale.
But most people, particularly those in government and business circles, see those as minor inconveniences in the face of what they hope will be a lasting economic improvement.
"There's a lot of new money coming into the county," Sullivan said. "Now our community has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state. Farmers who were struggling to survive have received lease and royalty payments. It's changed lives."
But on the flip side, Sullivan tells of an aquaintance in the gravel business who's having trouble keeping his drivers because of the competition with the gas industry. "You can't blame people for bettering themselves," he adds. "That's the American way. But it does present a challenge to other employers."
Across the Commonwealth in Waynesburg, Pa., Chamber of Commerce President Alan Laick voiced many of the same concerns.
"I was talking with someone yesterday who had a very good job they're looking to leave for the gas company, because the gas companies are paying more," Laick said. "Our established businesses ... some of the grocery stores, dress shops, the pharmacies ... are finding it hard to fill positions. They can still find high school students, but a lot of folks out there who've been working 9-to-5 for 10 or 20 years are trying to get into the gas industry. You can't blame them, the pay and benefits are better."
What's intriguing to outsiders, though, is Waynesburg's thriving downtown: Few, if any, storefronts are empty. Streets are lined with parked cars and, when the weather cooperates, shoppers .
"Downtown Waynesburg, so many new businesses have come in," Laick said. "And hotels have opened, they're full. Our biggest problem right now is we don't have living facilities for all of the people who are coming here to work - it's a huge issue. All of the apartments that normally are filled by college students or residents, now are filled with Marcellus people and people are staying outside the area, in Morgantown and Fairmont,and driving in. Some guys purchased RVs and they're parking them down by the golf course and out on the fairgrounds."
Laick said townspeople are adapting to the new ways. "It's a little bit of a difference," he admits, "but our business owners aren't complaining."
Hotaling said one of the biggest challenges they face in Bradford County is a lack of infrastructure. "We're seeing a lot of development, but we don't have a lot of suitable sites for development to occur."
"There's definitely a high turnover rate," she adds. "Especially with our local manufacturers who've been here forever. I guess we're fortunate that in 2008, when the country was going through an economic crisis and here in the Towanda area three of our employers who helped employ a lot of workers were hurting and laying people off, the gas industry came in and picked them up. In 2010 we led the state with 2,000 jobs being created. That's really significant for us, being a rural county, that we're outdoing Pittsburgh and Philadelphia in that area. There wasn't really job growth in those areas and here we had huge growth."
Sullivan said the job market is much different than it was before the shale boom hit the Commonwealth.
"If you have a CDL you can get a job," he said. "On any given day in the paper there will be 10-30 jobs available. I think anybody who wants to work in our county can get a job today, and any building can be rented. There's lots of new development. Companies are coming in, buildings are going up and shops are opening. That's all good."