MSC in O-R: Greater production of natural gas must be encouraged

Donora is well-known for producing legendary baseball players, such as Stan Musial or the two Ken Griffeys. However, like many small Rust Belt communities across our region and especially in the Mon Valley, Donora has faced big struggles over the years. But the tide is starting to turn, and manufacturing jobs – once the heartbeat of our region’s economy – are coming back.

In fact, an international plastics manufacturer recently announced that its new regional headquarters and production center will be in Donora, which will support nearly 100 good-paying local jobs.

But why select this small community on the banks of the Monongahela River? The “ample supply of reliable, low-cost natural gas for fuel; and soon, in-region production of polyethylene” served as a key factor in the company’s decision, according to Pittsburgh Regional Alliance president David Ruppersberger.

That’s right – Donora, Washington County, and our broader region’s access to affordable homegrown natural gas is creating a competitive edge for manufacturers that’s spurring new investment and good-paying jobs.

Donora’s positive progress and the many other regional Marcellus Shale-related manufacturing comeback stories are worth celebrating as we mark the recent national Manufacturing Day.

Hardworking families in the Mon Valley know the all too familiar, and deeply painful, story of America’s manufacturing struggles. It wasn’t too long ago we watched plants gradually close and local jobs shipped elsewhere. America’s manufacturing obituary has been written time and time again, and the cuts were especially deep for our region’s middle class.

But thanks to America’s natural gas revolution, led in large part by Washington County and our commonwealth, we are now witnessing a domestic manufacturing rebirth that almost no one could have projected even a few years ago. In fact, Pennsylvania’s rich manufacturing heritage is making a roaring comeback.

As the nation’s second largest natural gas producer, Pennsylvania is at the tip of the spear of America’s energy revolution, enabling consumers and manufacturers throughout the commonwealth and beyond to directly benefit. Manufacturers, especially in the chemical and plastics space, require reliable, affordable natural gas supplies to make any number of products that improve our daily lives in countless ways.

Thanks to Pennsylvania’s record-breaking natural gas production, manufacturers have access to these energy supplies – as well as a second-to-none skilled workforce – and are eyeing Western Pennsylvania to expand and grow jobs.

Consider Shell’s $6 billion ethane cracker investment in Beaver County. This project, representing the largest investment made in the commonwealth since World War II, is projected to create 6,000 construction jobs and 600 permanent jobs – mostly for local residents and union construction members.

Union halls, training centers, and educational institutions are already establishing programs to prepare for the wave of workers from the region needed to construct and operate this world-class facility.

These are family-supporting careers, as plastics manufacturing employees, on average, earn a wage 73 percent higher than the typical American, according to American Chemistry Council data.

Thanks to the Marcellus Shale, Western Pennsylvania has the unique opportunity to re-emerge as a national – rather, an international – energy and manufacturing powerhouse. That’s exactly why it’s critical policymakers must focus on policies that encourage greater production of our local, abundant natural gas resources.

David Spigelmyer is president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, and Jeff Kotula is president of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce.

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