By ALEC BERRY
The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register
WHEELING, W.Va. — A new program at West Virginia Northern Community College could help train local men and women to work at PTT Global Chemical’s ethane cracker near Dilles Bottom if the company ultimately decides to move forward with the plantIn July, WVNCC created an accelerated chemical operator technology program with funds from a $1.7 million United States Department of Labor grant.
And although the college did not design the program specifically for the possible cracker, Larry Tackett, vice president of WVNCC’s economic and workforce development department, said what it prepares its students for — to oversee the production, refining and transfer of various chemicals — is applicable for an ethane cracker.
These facilities convert ethane, a component of natural gas, into ethylene to create plastics, resins, adhesives and synthetic products.
Tackett said WVNCC created the program to fulfill a general industrial need within the region and to prepare individuals for a growing chemical processing industry.
Ten people in their 20s and 30s are now enrolled, and they will complete the program in April after passing classes, visiting industrial sites and receiving the attention of guest speakers proficient in the business.
They will leave with an associate’s degree.
So far, the program is only offered on the school’s New Martinsville campus, but Tackett said if the cracker ultimately is constructed in Belmont County, WVNCC likely would expand the chemical operator program to its Wheeling and Weirton campuses.
Although PTT Global Chemical America has yet to commit to building the cracker — a decision is expected by the end of March — Tackett said college officials have been discussing the company’s likely labor needs, and he said WVNCC has the ability to tailor programs to collaborate with private interests.
Tackett said welding and water treatment programs would be other programs suitable for the proposed cracker.
It has been estimated that a few thousand would be required to build the facility at peak construction. Afterward, it’s believed various spin-off businesses, such as plastics manufacturers, would spring up within the region. Officials hope this will persuade many to relocate to the Ohio Valley, which has experienced a significant decline in industrial jobs in recent decades.
See more from The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register