By KATELYN FREIL
WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. – The Williamsport Chamber of Commerce president said he never has seen an economic boom such as the one creating lines at local restaurants, no vacancies at area hotels and a general optimism among many capitalizing on the area’s expanding gas and oil industry.
Vincent Matteo has spent more than 30 years working on various economic-development initiatives. He knows the good times from the current gas and oil-well success need to be well-managed to help the community sustain itself long after the valuable minerals have stopped flowing.
Matteo, who has been with the chamber since 2001, said he has had weekly meetings with local elected officials. During one of those meetings about five years ago, a county commissioner mentioned that people had been flooding the county courthouses to look up property deeds.
“There were these long lines at the computers, and people are looking up deeds, and we don’t know why. Obviously, they were the land men looking up ownership of the land and stuff, and that’s how we found out,” Matteo said.
Land men are professionals engaged in land work for oil, gas and mineral exploration and production.
Officials from Lycoming County, where Williamsport is located, wanted the gas and oil-well drilling done in their community. About three months later, those officials traveled to the Dallas-Fort Worth area to meet with government, public-sector and private businesses and residents for and against gas exploration.
Matteo wanted to make sure the community took full advantage of the opportunities, but he was equally concerned that growth be managed properly.
“Lycoming County is relatively small, and there’s always growing pains and always people — no matter where you go — who may not be as welcoming as others are to change,” Matteo said. “But for the most part, it’s been done pretty well and people are just starting to fit in.”
Lycoming has seen growth in sales-tax revenue for the county by industry people coming into the community. Between 2006 and 2010, that revenue increased by 10.4 percent. During the same time period, Pennsylvania as a whole had a 2.8 percent decrease.
In 2010, the Williamsport metropolitan area was the seventh-fastest growing economy in the United States. Matteo said that within the past three years, about 115 new businesses began operating in Lycoming County and the areas surrounding the county.
These businesses include hotels, office buildings and restaurants. Matteo said that about 2,000 people have been hired for those businesses.
Restaurants that have been in the area for a long time have also noticed an increase in business.
The Bullfrog Brewery, a brew pub and restaurant, has been in Williamsport for 16 years. Jody Odell-Zimmerman, director of operations, has seen the variety of customers coming to the restaurant. It’s not just the drillers that she’s seen.
“It’s all of the facets of the different companies that work with the oil and gas industry,” she said.
“You’ve seen the growth not only from the companies moving into the area, but from our legacy companies, the ones that have been here that have expanded their employment as a direct result of the natural-gas exploration,” Matteo added.
Alice Crane & Rigging is one, and it has increased its work force from roughly 50 employees four years ago to more than 200 employees now. The company also doubled its number of cranes and trucks.
RS Albert’s, another family-owned company, manufactures several plastic products and has expanded with a product for the oil and gas industry. The company is most noted for producing roller-coaster safety harnesses but now uses that same plastic to contain spills on well sites.
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