Cracker plant shines spotlight on Parkersburg

PARKERSBURG – Inquiries about the Mid-Ohio Valley as a business location have increased since the November announcement of plans to build an ethane cracker plant in Wood County.

“It has sparked a tremendous amount of activity and interest in our area … in the commercial and industrial market,” said Holmes R. “Butch” Shaver, director of commercial and industrial sales and leasing for Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Real Estate Center in Parkersburg.

The multibillion-dollar Ascent complex would be constructed at the current site of the SABIC plant in Washington, W.Va. It would include the cracker facility- which would convert ethane, a byproduct of natural gas extracted from the Marcellus and Utica shale formations, into ethylene, a key component for the plastics industry- as well as three polyethylene plants and water treatment and energy co-generation infrastructure.

Officials have said construction will generate thousands of jobs and the complex itself would provide hundreds of jobs.

But the economic impact isn’t limited to just the plant. Although the project has not been finalized, local officials are already fielding calls from parties interested in taking advantage of the potential business the complex and its construction are expected to generate.

“Typically … our main mission is industrial,” said Cam Huffman, president and CEO of the Area Roundtable, which includes the Wood County Development Authority and the Parkersburg-Wood County Development Corporation. “We’re getting calls now across basically all of our sectors.

“I’ve had three hotels call me since the announcement. And I never have hotels call me,” he said.

Parkersburg Mayor Bob Newell said the city has received inquiries about available land and building space, largely from realtors seeking information for clients. Because of interest in the Marcellus and Utica shale plays, that was happening even before the cracker plant announcement, but Newell said it has increased since then.

“We’ve gotten inquiries from realtors outside the area,” he said. “I’d say in the next two or three months … I think we’ll have people taking some of those properties.”

One thing realtors have inquired about is what assistance or incentives the city might provide to a business looking at locating within it. Newell said there are multiple possibilities, especially if someone is looking to fill an existing building.

“We rebate back to them the B&O (business and occupation) taxes for renovation over five years,” he said. “They’ll put more into the renovation than they get back.”

The city is also willing to work with businesses on parking solutions, as it did with the group working to renovate and reopen the Uptowner Inn.

An example Newell gave of an available space downtown is the Union Trust Bank Building at Seventh and Market streets. It most recently served as the headquarters of Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield before the company built a new structure across the street.

Like Newell, Shaver said the growing oil and natural gas activity was already attracting attention before the cracker plant announcement.

“I’m in the process now of finalizing a couple acquisitions by outside companies,” he said.

He expects the interest to spill over into the residential market as well.

Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce President Charlotte Keim said she’d been getting plenty of inquiries related to the oil and gas industry before the cracker plant announcement. Now interested parties are mentioning it as well.

“In the last few weeks, I’ve been contacted by several different housing development companies who are interested in moving into the area,” she said.

On Thursday, a physician contacted Keim and discussed his interest in establishing a practice specifically based around the oil and gas industry.

“He did mention the cracker plant was another opportunity for him to provide some specialized services,” she said.