Burdette touts area for cracker plant

PARKERSBURG – Wood County is where the people who are proposing to build an ethane cracker facility want to be, officials said Monday night.

The Area Roundtable held its annual membership meeting at the Blennerhassett Hotel.

West Virginia Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette, the meeting’s keynote speaker, talked about “the project that is on the tip of everyone’s tongue.”

Wood County was chosen as the site for a possible new petrochemical complex – the ethane cracker plant – to be built by the Brazilian-based company Odebrecht on the site of the SABIC plant in Washington, W.Va. The proposed complex is called Ascent, which stands for “Appalachian Shale Cracker Enterprise.”

“This is a big deal for this community,” Burdette said. “It is understandable why people are anxious to hear more, are anxious to see more and are anxious for more things to happen.”

Company officials are keeping some aspects of the proposed project to themselves, but Burdette said a project like this represents billions of dollars. Thousands of workers will be needed to build a facility and hundreds will be needed to operate it once it is completed, he added.

“How much will they invest here? Lots,” Burdette said. “How many jobs will they create? Lots.

“It is a big project. We have always talked about this as an industry, not just a facility.”

Burdette said there is an opportunity to bring a catalyst to the state that will driving manufacturing forward.

“We believe Project Ascent is that catalyst that can help us to the next level,” he said.

People around the community have been excited about the prospect of the new plant while others believe it will never happen.

“We have a lot of work to do,” Burdette said. “(Officials with Odebrecht) did not make their announcement (Nov. 14) lightly.

“They considered it carefully. They want everyone to know that they are serious. They just don’t want to create expectations that they cannot meet.”

Burdette said it is a very complicated process to get everything in place to make the plant a reality. Local and state development officials started working with company officials over three years ago on the project when the companies were in the selection phase. The site that was selected was not on the original list of prospective sites.

“It was not on the list,” Burdette said. “It was not considered to be available.”

Burdette credited Cam Huffman, executive director of the Wood County Development Authority, with keeping things on track which led to the company eventually choosing the SABIC site.

Progress in West Virginia over the last few years has seen a lower tax rate than its surrounding states, they have restructured the state’s finances and balanced the state budget, Burdette said.

“We have a stronger product to sell,” he said. “We are promoting West Virginia to folks to allow us to grow, expand and prosper.”

Having a well-trained and sustainable work force is part of what they want to sell companies who want to locate here.

“Our future depends on it,” Burdette said.

Company representatives made the trip to Parkersburg and were sitting among the membership of the Area Roundtable on Monday as Burdette said they could have easily sat up front in a place of honor and attention.

“At the end of the day, they are anxious to be more than just a plant in Washington Bottom,” Burdette said. “They want to be apart of this community.

“They wanted to learn more about us. That is what should be significant to you. That is what makes great corporate citizens.”

David Peebles, a business development manager for Odebrecht, said the Marcellus and Utica Shales are some of the largest deposits of natural gas in the United States. Companies need to develop the industries here to take advantage of what can be done with those resources. To do that, states will have to work together to build a cluster of facilities to handle it.

“That cluster can start right here,” Peebles said. “We are not here to build a facility, we are here to create economic development.”

Peebles shared a story about how the wife of the Governor of Texas once invited officials from their company to come and have dinner with them. That led to one of the company’s biggest operations in the U.S. that now does billions of dollars in business annually. It was that openness and welcomeness that led them to open a complex in Texas.

“I can tell you that I feel that here in Wood County,” he said. “There is an energy of the spirit here. Keep that up.”