Times column ignored local role of shale

The Economic Scene column of the New York Times (“Why Big Cities Thrive and Smaller Ones are Being Left Behind,” by Eduardo Porter) suggested Tuesday that the best solution for small cities might be for residents to pack up and move to a larger metro area to find opportunity, based on a report from the Brookings Institution think tank.

Area economic developers were incensed by the use of Steubenville-Weirton as the prime example to lead into the column and the use of pictures of the closed sections of the old Weirton Steel plant as featured photos. One major argument from local leaders was that the article ignored real progress and investment happening — some literally across the street from the old Weirton blast furnaces.

That laser focus on data in the column has an effect on the Brookings report, according to Joseph Zoric, professor of economics at the Franciscan University of Steubenville and himself a participant in economic reports prepared by the Buckeye Policy think tank.

“They just ignored the whole energy industry and the impact that it is going to have on the Ohio Valley,” Zoric said in an interview after he read the column. “I think the cracker plant going in down river (PTT Global’s proposed plant at Dilles Bottom) could be a huge boom to these small towns, simply because you will have manufacturing firms that want to be near that.

“I can envision these small towns being hustling and bustling places like they once were when steel and coal were the major industries.”

Zoric said while living in major metropolitan areas has some advantages, the suggestion that abandoning small towns for bigger cities ignores the problems of major urban areas, including crime and congestion.

“The small towns really are the heart of the country,” Zoric said. “Certainly cities have their own problems. Look at Detroit or Chicago. I don’t think anybody is looking to move into those cities, simply because of all the social problems that exist there. A lot of little towns are just quaint and beautiful and are places where you can live a nice, peaceful life.”

Zoric said the Steubenville-Weirton area continues to have unique advantages to growth in being well connected to the nearby Interstate highway system, being less than 40 miles from an international airport and offering what companies need to transport product, people and customers.

“Route 22 goes right through Weirton and Steubenville. It’s a few miles from Interstate 70, which crosses the country, so you have great access to highways, to the river and you have access to an international airport, just a few miles away,” he said.

Zoric said that, despite the report coming from Brookings, he doesn’t think the concept of dumping smaller cities and pushing development of metro areas will become a national policy.

“Think tanks come up with a lot of ideas, but politicians only embrace it if it can advance their agenda. This is a philosophy that doesn’t lend itself to some sort of legislation,” he concluded.

(Giannamore may be reached by e-mail at pgiannamore@heraldstaronline.com. Follow him on Twitter @Pablomg228.)