Parkersburg, state officials react to proposal

PARKERSBURG – With the announcement of the possible development of a multi-billion dollar ethane cracker plant in Wood County, many local and state officials are looking forward to economic development for the area.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced Thursday at West Virginia University at Parkersburg that Wood County was chosen as the site for a possible new petrochemical complex – an ethane cracker plant – to be built by the Brazilian-based company Odebrecht, possibly on the site of the SABIC plant in Washington, W.Va.

Although plans, approvals and infrastructure have to be done first, officials believe this project will change the economic position of the region.

With the potential for numerous construction jobs and other related employment, officials talked about an increased need for housing, food and other related services as well as recreation.

West Virginia Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette said there is a potential for thousands of construction jobs in the initial building phase, followed by many jobs in the operational phase of the facility as well as jobs created from downstream companies that could locate to the area to take advantage of the ethane cracker plant.

“There are all kinds of studies about the downstream effects of a cracker facility,” he said. “It is huge in how many jobs it can create.

“Our next mission is literally to close this deal and get (the cracker plant) to construction and then begin attracting the type of companies that will use what is produced to manufacture other goods and services.”

Burdette said it will take several years to get to the operational phase for a cracker plant. However, company officials with Odebrecht have shown the commitment to making it a reality, he said.

The investment in this facility is expected to reach into the billions of dollars.

“It will be an internationally financed operation,” Burdette said. “If we do this right, it will impact our economy for a half century or longer.

“They can’t build a plant like this for five years or 10 years; it has to be 20, 30 40, and 50 years they have to plan for this.”

Cam Huffman, executive director of the Wood County Development Authority, said the eventual reach of this development will affect every aspect of the community.

“The impact of this project will cross all sectors as it is such a large project,” he said. “You are talking service industries, talking distribution…there will be restaurants, retail and other downstream companies that will come in and use the product. It is a total package.”

The development is an economic boon for the region and West Virginia, said Mark Whitley, executive director of the Jackson County Development Authority. The potential is enormous, he said.

Karen Facemyer, president of the Polymer Alliance Zone of West Virginia, said the potential of a multi-billion dollar ethane cracker plant in Wood County is tremendous news for the region and the state.

“It is incredible proof that the shale gas boom in West Virginia is driving a renaissance of the North American plastics and manufacturing industries,” she said. “While we know there is much work to be done, the Polymer Alliance Zone stands ready to assist in anyway necessary to welcome this new company to our region and state.”

Delegate Dan Poling, D-Wood, said this project will represent a long-term commitment by the company as the potential is there to do a variety of work for years to come in the natural gas industry and the energy field.

“This is the biggest announcement we are ever going to have in this area as far as jobs,” he said. “The whole economy of this area will change as this project goes forward.This will recreate industry here that we have lost over the last 15 years or so.”

Poling expects good-paying jobs will be created out of this.

“You are going to see a whole different type of economic environment, because of this,” he said. “I think it is the greatest thing to ever happen to West Virginia.”

Delegate John Ellem, R-Wood, said the project will be a game changer, not only for the Mid-Ohio Valley, but for the state of West Virginia as a whole and Ohio as well.

“It is really a regional development,” he said. “It is something we have needed. One of the benefits of the Marcellus gas plays is being able to get something like this for long-term job creation.”

Although there are many things that still need to happen, Burdette said he and Tomblin are confident the project will result in the ethane cracker plant being built in Wood County.

“The governor said to me ‘I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t feel really confident that this is the end result that there will be a plant here at the end of the day,”‘ Burdette said. “There is a lot of work to do, but we are feeling very confident.”