Looking Ahead

The Mid-Ohio Valley has much to look forward to in 2014, perhaps more this year than in recent memory.

The biggest economic news for the region, if not the state of West Virginia, was the November announcement that Odebrecht, a multi-national chemical company, chose a site in Washington Bottom in Wood County for a multi-billion-dollar ethane cracker plant, called Ascent.

That’s billion with a capital “B” and that rhymes with “economy” and any other word that has to do with business expansion and job creation. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin called it a game changer for the state of West Virginia.

The announcement complements other developments in the last year or so in the Mid-Ohio Valley, not the least of which are the new hotels in Parkersburg and Marietta, the healthcare facilities being built in Belpre by Marietta Memorial Hospital, natural gas exploration in the Marcellus and Utica shales and an 80-mile $525 million pipeline from the Ohio River by Antero Resources to supply water to drilling operations in Tyler and Ritchie counties.

Each by themselves would make your mother proud, but the ethane cracker was the big kahuna.

Many hurdles remain to be jumped in the next year or so before dirt is turned, before we take the photograph of the people in the suits wearing a hardhat and grabbing on to the ceremonial shovel with a lot of handles. Maybe this year. Maybe next.

The plant will be located at SABIC, the former GE Plastics, which is closing as that company consolidates operations to improve efficiencies. Odebrecht has an option to purchase the property, about 300 acres of land including the chemical plant, which will be dismantled except the buildings that can be used for the cracker plant.

Odebrecht plans the ethane cracker, three polyethylene plants and associated infrastructure for water treatment and energy co-generation. The cracker converts ethane, a byproduct from the natural gas found in the rich Marcellus and Utica shales, into ethylene, a component in the plastics industry. The state is a major player in this deal and we look to them to help where it can and protect the environment and our wellbeing.

The chemistry is beyond most of us, but it doesn’t take a doctorate to know what the development means for the region. People are going to work, directly and indirectly, and our challenge will be to make sure we have a trained workforce ready, willing and able to do the job at the plant and for the support companies created because of the plant.

Our friends and children will have opportunities to get a job here rather than having to go elsewhere to find work.

And that makes 2014 a year for which we look forward.