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Wheeling area business, community leaders await Ohio cracker decision


The State Journal

WHEELING, W.Va.  — Business and community leaders attending Wednesday’s Economic Outlook Conference heard about the opportunities natural gas has already unlocked in the Northern Panhandle and rosy projections for the future.

What they didn’t hear was a definitive answer about the prospects for an ethane cracker just a few miles away in Dilles Bottom, Ohio, in part because those working with PTT Global sidestepped their questions due to non-disclosure agreements.

“Yes, it’s taking longer than (PTT) originally said but I don’t think that’s unusual based on the amount of work they’re doing,” conceded Mike Jacoby, vice president of Business Development for Ohio’s Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth. “(They’ve) indicated they’ll make a decision by the end of the year. I think they’re continuing to do the things any company would do that’s making this type of decision.

“From what we can see, they’re taking all the right steps but we just don’t know (what PTT will decide).”

While the indicators suggest PTT likes what they’ve seen so far, Eagle Manufacturing’s Joe Eddy said even if the company decided against the Dilles Bottom site “it’s not going to be a complete loss for us, other folks are looking really hard at the area.”

Matt Cybulski, director of Jobs Ohio’s Shale Energy & Petrochemicals group, said they’ve been proactive, figuring that the Dilles Bottom site would have no shortage of suitors even if PTT were to bow out. He said Ohio has already demolished an old power plant that had been on the site. He said PTT purchased about 164 acres and has an option on several hundred more “should they decide to move forward.”

If the project moves forward, “certainly we see a lot of benefits for the region,” Cybulski said.

Though he thinks it’s “a natural” fit for PTT, even if they nix the idea of building an ethane cracker, Eagle Manufacturing’s Joe Eddy said the work that’s already been done wouldn’t go to waste.

“It wouldn’t be a complete loss for us, other folks are looking really hard at the area,” he told the group.

David McKinley, president and managing director of McKinley Carter Wealth Services, told attendees that with the stock market’s performance over the past year, coupled with global synchronization of the economic recovery, corporate earnings gains and relatively flat inflation, “enthusiasm here and abroad is significant.”

“People are willing to make investments,” he said.

John Deskins, director of West Virginia University’s Bureau of Business & Economic Research, said the job outlook in the Mountain State is turning around, “it’s clear its growing again.”

“In the Wheeling area, there’s a lot of upside potential,” Deskin said. “(We’re) forecasting growth in the Wheeling area will be about 1 percent annually over the next five years…(the community) is expected to do even better than what we’ll see nationally.”

Kris Hopkins, executive director of the West Virginia Development Office, said this year to date, plans have been announced for 65 new or expansion projects with roughly $1.5 billion in direct capital investment. Hopkins said those projects have created more than 1,700 new jobs and retained 2,500 existing jobs.

Cybulski, meanwhile, said continued cooperation between Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio is critical, pointing out, “If a cracker or some other downstream facility locates on one side of the river or the other, it’s going to benefit the (entire) region almost equally.” He also said the strong natural gas production in the three states is “really going to help us tap into downstream opportunities.”

The conference, held at Wheeling Island Casino, attracted 250 members of the business community and local leaders.

Staff writer Linda Harris can be reached at 304-374-0403 or email [email protected]

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