Americans Need To ‘Make Stuff’

A column by Mike Myer, executive editor of The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

Wheeling, W.Va. — In March, the highest unemployment rates in West Virginia and Ohio were, respectively, Wetzel County at 12.7 percent and Monroe County at 12.5 percent. Why? In a word: Ormet.

Both counties had fairly high unemployment rates before the aluminum plant at Hannibal shut down. Ormet sent the numbers skyrocketing.

Except for coal mining and a few chemical plants, Ormet’s closure marked the end of big-employment industries in this area of the Ohio Valley. When the potlines went cold at Hannibal, about 1,000 men and women lost their jobs.

Both Wheeling-Pittsburgh and Weirton steel companies are history, taking with them mills that, at their peaks, had more people on their payrolls than medium-sized towns in our region have residents.

Industry is our heritage and the foundation of our prosperity in this area. But the nature of the endeavor has changed dramatically.

Look at the gas processing plant at Natrium. Not so long ago, a facility that large would require hundreds of workers. Or consider the gas-fired power plant proposed for near Moundsville. It will have about the same capacity as the old Kammer Plant – but only about 30 workers.

Many companies in our area have had to adapt. Now, some produce more than they did a few decades ago, but with a fraction of the workforce.

We’re not alone, of course…

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