by Kevin Mertz
MILTON — The ever-growing Marcellus Shale industry is and will continue to be a driving force of the local economy, according to the president and CEO of the Central PA Chamber of Commerce.
Maria Culp said businesses related to the industry have already had an impact on the local economy and will continue to do so.
“There were a number of businesses that took advantage of the opportunity to be servicers to the natural gas industry,” Culp said. “There are a lot of examples of company expansions.”
She said Todd Ross, of T-Ross Brothers Construction, created a company that is building self-contained mobile security booths used extensively by the gas industry.
“You can pretty much see these sheds being used at every one of the (gas drilling) sites,” Culp said. “He has hired a couple of people to build the units… That was him, seeing a need and coming up with an idea that was economically (sound).”
She said Brian Bolus, owner of Minuteman Environmental Services, is another example of a local entrepreneur who has embraced the shale industry.
“He started out with a towing business,” Culp said. “He is hauling clean water to the (drilling) sites.”
As a result of the expansion to service the natural gas industry, Culp said Bolus’ company has also grown.
“He’s gone from 80 people, in the early part of the year, to 160,” Culp said. “Most of it is directly related to those (Marcellus shale-related) operations.”
Milton borough council recently approved plans for Bolus to move his base of operations to the former Integrity Building Systems property on Housels Run Road.
Culp said the “area of impact” of the shale industry is also continuing to expand.
She receives one to three calls per week from companies that service the shale industry looking to set up operations in the Central Susquehanna Valley.
Culp said the former H. Warshow and Sons building on Mahoning Street in Milton would be an ideal location for a company servicing the natural gas industry because of its location along the railroad.
She added that any warehouse space next to a rail line would be a prime location for a company servicing the shale industry.
In addition to the development of the Marcellus Shale industry, Culp said a critical component of keeping the local economy strong is the continued development and maintenance of infrastructure in the area, include the railroad, roads and air facilities.
“Our rural region has lived and died based on the success and quality of our infrastructure,” Culp said. “It goes back to the great days of the lumber barons and the canal system. After that, it was the rail.”
At the height of the railroad, Culp said 22 passenger trains per day traveled through Milton.
“When the rail was in use that heavily, it provided an economic boost to the region,” Culp said. “The next really big time of boom was when Interstate 80 was built.”
She said business centered around Interstate 80 began to fall off several years ago when the state government began talk of tolling the interstate.
Presently, Culp said the development of the proposed Central Susquehanna Valley Thruway is the top priority in the region.
According to a study, Culp said 9,500 jobs could be created during the 10-year construction period of the thruway.
“It literally means that anyone who wants a job should be able to find one,” Culp said.
In addition to work on the thruway itself, Culp said jobs would be created at local restaurants, hotels and in retail.
In all, Culp said she sees signs that the local economy is on the rebound.
“I see some existing companies that have been holding on, waiting to see how things play out in the economy, making some decisions about expansion, maybe hiring a couple more people,” Culp said.
She said it’s crucial for companies to continue to look at ways to expand, or change, their product and service line to fit the marketplace.
In addition, Culp said its crucial for businesses, small and large alike, to not cut back on marketing when finances get tight.
“That’s the wrong thing to do,” Culp said. “You want people to see what makes your company unique.”
She said businesses have been taking a “wait and see” attitude when it comes toward expansion because of the current economic climate.
Culp said that approach could continue in 2012. However, she said businesses are at a point where they have to soon start thinking about job creation.
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