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Summit highlights role of plastics in W.Va. economy

VIENNA, W.Va. — Raising awareness of the role played by the plastics industry in the local economy and to show what products they have to offer was the goal of the first Ohio Valley Plastics Summit sponsored by the Polymer Alliance Zone.

Karen Facemyer, president of the Polymer Alliance Zone, said the summit was the first of its kind in West Virginia.

Because the summit in Vienna included people from many different fields, Facemyer said the summit began as a type of Plastics 101 to give a basic background of the industry.

“Margie Weiner from the Society of Plastics Engineers gave an overview of what she talks about when she goes to the schools with the kids,” she said. “We got a wide diversity of people here from industry to economic development to support industries along with engineers.”

Facemyer said the summit highlighted what West Virginia has to offer to the industry.

“The plastics industry has been here since almost the beginning of time,” she said. “We had five different companies give a view of what they offer. Our morning session was focused on what West Virginia has to offer and to inform them of what challenges they will face and what they could expect if the cracker plant comes to fruition.”

In the afternoon, the focus was on what products could be made from the cracker plant and what other industries could be attracted to the area.

“Most importantly one of the reasons behind this is to make a regional effect,” she said. “We’ve got people from Jobs Ohio and from the Pittsburgh Area Alliance and West Virginia officials here to tout what they have to offer and how they think they can work with each other.”

Facemyer said the challenge facing the area in regard to the proposed cracker plant is they have to work as a region.

“We can’t do this on our own,” she said. “It is a region as in Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, even out to Illinois, Indiana, areas with the Utica Shale and Marcellus Shale reserves.”

Facemyer said the alliance needed to step up since it was founded 18 years ago.

“We need to start providing our members more opportunities,” she said. “The main thing is we need to educate the public. It’s a big surprise when the governor announced plastics is the second largest export behind coal from West Virginia.

“Plastics plays a large part in our economy.”

Keith Burdette, cabinet secretary for the West Virginia Department of Commerce and executive director of the West Virginia Development Office, said the plastics industry along with oil and gas exploration that has been growing can change things.

“We are at a turning point in our economic history,” he said. “This opportunity in this region of the country has huge potential for us; how we prepare, how we plan and how we execute is not only sensitive but critical to the difference between success and failure.”

Burdette said the competition is not among various companies but with the Gulf Coast, where infrastructure for oil and gas has been in place for many years, while West Virginia and Ohio are basically starting from scratch.

“They’ve been doing this for decades,” he said. “Part of this is to educate and part of this is to discuss the next steps that have to be taken and hopefully at the end of the day there will be a plan to execute.”

Attendance for the first conference of its type was good, Burdette said.

“It is a standing room only crowd,” he said. “I think that says a lot about what the interest in the region is. I go to these things all the time and usually they lose 10 percent at each break, but it’s close to standing room only at almost the end of the meeting.”

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