Economic development big focus at Belpre Town Talk

BELPRE – About 100 people filled the Belpre Senior Center Thursday afternoon for the first Town Talk discussion of economic development.

“I think everybody is interested in what we are doing and what is out there business-wise,” said Mayor Mike Lorentz. “There is a good mix of speakers and everyone seems to know what they are talking about and has ideas how we can work together to make it happen in and for Belpre.”

The more than two-hour program was held in the Belpre Senior Center by the Belpre Area Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Development Committee.

“We are very pleased with the turnout and hope it was helpful and educational,” said new chamber president Susie Casto, who is also director of the senior center.

The idea for the program came about from the chamber’s economic development committee’s desire to hear from local businesses and industries about their views of the economic climate.

Presentations were given by business owners and managers, area manufacturers, retailers, nonprofits, and other interested persons. They included U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio; Ohio Rep. Debbie Phillips, D-Albany; Sen. Lou Gentile, D-Steubenville; Belpre Mayor Mike Lorentz; Kraton Plant Manager Scott Oran; DeeAnn Gehlauf, vice president of business organization and development at Memorial Health System; Bradley Ebersole, president of Washington State Community College, and Pam Lankford, director of the Marietta Small Business Development Center.

“Oil and gas is one of the biggest things going on in our area and it’s the ancillary jobs created when that material starts to come out of the ground that we will get the biggest growth from,” Johnson told the crowd. “So far, about $12 billion has come into southeastern Ohio because of this boom.”

Oran said the materials from the Marcellus and Utica shale that have brought about this economic growth could help the Kraton facility in a number of ways.

“Shale gas can be used to create energy, heating and raw materials to produce more chemicals,” Oran said. “There are projections that shale gas will create millions of jobs in the next five years, but we are lacking in those who are qualified for those positions.”

Because of the small number of workers with the experience and training, Kraton and other area industrial plants are working with area schools to train people to fill the demand.

“We are partnering together to fix these workforce issues,” Oran said.

Along with the informational talks and question and answers opportunities, nearly a dozen organizations and businesses had information to educate people about what they offer the community.

Those who participated included American Electric Power, American National University, Appalachian Partnerships for Economic Growth, Belpre Woman’s Club, Community Bank, Memorial Health System, NOE Office Supply, Southeastern Ohio Port Authority, Tupperware Business Opportunities and Washington State Community College.

Lorentz said he was not surprised by the response from those willing to speak and those who attended the event.

“I expect we will do these more often,” he said. “Not weekly or monthly, but I figure we will have another before the year is out.”