Economic development to grow by Corridor D

PARKERSBURG – With the national economy improving and the recent announcement of an ethane cracker plant possibly coming to the area, economic development along Corridor D and in other areas is poised to start picking up again, a local development official said.

At the time of its opening in 2008, area officials had touted new economic opportunities would come with the completion of the $135 million Blennerhassett Island Bridge and the Corridor D section of U.S. 50. Some said the 4,009-foot span was not just another connection between Ohio and West Virginia, but the entire eastern seaboard with many opportunities for the area.

However, little apparent progress has been made over the last five years.

”Once U.S. 50 got finished, the Great Recession hit,” said Cam Huffman, executive director of the Wood County Development Authority. ”That hit a lot of consumers.”

People cut down on spending and retail businesses were hit hard, Huffman said. As a result, companies put off plans for development across the country and locally, he said.

On Nov. 14, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and officials with Odebrecht announced plans for the development of an ethane cracker, three polyethylene plants and associated infrastructure for water treatment and energy co-generation.

A cracker plant converts ethane, a byproduct from Marcellus Shale and Utica Shale natural gas, into the widely used ethylene, a key component for the plastics industry.

With the announcement people have wondered what the far-reaching impacts will mean to the area in development and new business as well as what kind of opportunities the facility might generate.

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

West Virginia Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette had said the investment in this facility is expected to reach into the billions of dollars.

There is 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, Burdette had said.

Since the announcement was made, Huffman said developers have contacted him about the possibility of building hotels as well as other commercial developments and housing in the area.

”My phone has been ringing off the hook,” he said.

However, Huffman points out that developers and businesses were taking an interest in the area before the ethane cracker plant announcement was made.

“This year alone, we have had more interest,” he said.

One developer has inquired about land in a 20-mile radius of Washington Bottom. Others have been inquiring about south Parkersburg and Vienna.

”We have people asking about locations we have not heard a lot on recently,” Huffman said.

The renewed interest in the area has brought calls about the Emerson Commons development at W.Va. 68 north near I-77 and Neal Run Crossing at W.Va. 68 south near Lubeck.

A developer has asked about sit-down restaurants around the Neal Run Crossing site. With Western Sizzlin’ having regular crowds, development officials said other restaurants could do well out there.

”We have told them that it gets so busy out there that people end up parking in the grass,” Huffman said.

Developers are interested in coming to the area for a drive-around tour.

”One wants to get here as soon as possible,” Huffman said.

The economic outlook for the area and the state is looking up with a number of possibilities resulting in a better economy overall and the announcement of the ethane cracker plant.

”It is a good day to be a West Virginian, but it is a great day to be a Wood Countian,” Huffman said.