Officials say road projects, Marcellus Shale energizing West Virginia
CHARLESTON — Upcoming highway projects and opportunities in the energy sector have the potential to create many jobs and economic opportunities throughout the state, officials said.
State officials and business leaders addressed the West Virginia Press Association’s 2018 Legislative Breakfast Thursday at the Embassy Suites hotel in Charleston.
The Roads to Prosperity bond issue, which passed last fall, calls for the sale of $1.6 billion in bonds over four years for road improvement projects across the state. There is also additional money from other sources, tolls, fees and taxes, that is going into these projects.
“Roads equal jobs,” West Virginia Department of Transportation Secretary Tom Smith said.
All of the work being proposed is expected to create 48,000 new jobs statewide, state officials said.
“Taken together it is around 600 projects of all types, interstate reconstruction, bridges and major projects that are regionally significant,” Smith said.
Smith said a lot of work will include highly traveled country roads that could not be addressed before now.
“You are going to see a lot of work on the interstates once the weather turns (warm),” Smith said.
Funding will be in place to handle 19 bridge replacement projects and 12 major interstate reconstruction projects around the state, he said, which equals around 60 miles of interstate reconstruction.
A job fair will be held Feb. 16 by the Contractors Association of West Virginia at Bridge Valley Community and Technical College in Charleston.
“This is really the human part of this,” Smith said. “This is where people can find their way to those jobs. Now is the time to start signing people up.”
The last five years have been challenging for the contracting businesses, said Mike Clowser, executive director of the Contractors Association of West Virginia.
“The lack of economic development in our state has affected jobs,” he said.
For a number of years recently, West Virginia ranked toward the end of the list for construction jobs with many contractors leaving the state to find work, he said. Now with the highway projects, many are expected to come back, he said.
“What we are seeing (with the road bonds) is people coming back to West Virginia,” Clowser said. “Many have brought their crews back. They will be the first people working when the weather gets good.”
Conditions of the bonds were that West Virginia companies be given first consideration in hiring for the work.
“I will tell you it will be the Number-1 priority as we work through these projects coming forward,” Clowser said.
The road work is a great opportunity for many workers, said Steve White, director of the Affiliated Construction Trades of West Virginia.
Many West Virginia companies have qualified to do a lot of the work, he said.
“You are going to see a lot of West Virginians going to work,” White said.
Some companies in West Virginia may not be able to do some of the work and other companies from outside the state might have to be brought in, he said. However, those people will still benefit other parts of the state’s economy as these people stay in motels, eat at local restaurants and spend money in the state, he said.
Many companies will come from adjoining states, many within 50 miles of the border, White said. Many are considered regional companies that still benefit people in West Virginia.
“We don’t want to put walls up at the state border,” he said.
Energy production is also taking hold in the state driven by the Marcellus Shale development and other areas in the northern part of the state, said Mark Dempsey, external affairs vice president for Appalachian Power.
Declines in the coal production over the last several years are starting to make a comeback with a larger international market, said Chris Hamilton, senior vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association.
“There is a positive stir in the air,” he said. “There is a reason to be optimistic.”
Natural gas will play a huge role in West Virginia’s future in power production and job development, he said.
The recently announced $83.7 billion China Energy investment plan for shale natural gas and petrochemical projects in West Virginia is a huge opportunity for West Virginia, said Charlie Burd, executive director for the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia.
“Natural gas contributes to one-third of the power production in the country,” he said. “West Virginia sits on the Saudi Arabia of natural gas. There is tons here.”