WVU Parkersburg prepares for ethane cracker plant, hires economist to study industry needs

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West Virginia University at Parkersburg recently hired Dr. Tom Witt, economist and managing director of Witt Economics, to identify the major industries and staffing needs associated with the proposed ethane cracker plant. He delivered his report on Oct. 8 at the WVU Parkersburg Board of Governors retreat.

In November 2013, the Brazil-based Odebrecht Organization announced a location near Parkersburg, W.Va. for ethane cracker and associated polyethylene plants. Appalachian Shale Cracker Enterprise, or project ASCENT, will use ethane produced in West Virginia as a result of the exploration and development of the Marcellus Shale formation.

WVU Parkersburg hired Witt to analyze its current program offerings and the economic impact of this new development.

“We want to be sure that our current and new programs align with the needs of the industry and other industries impacted,” said Dr. Rhonda Tracy, interim president for WVU Parkersburg. “After meeting with Dr. Witt and reviewing his report, I am confident we are headed down the right path.”Witt presenting at BOG retreat

“This report builds upon my previous report on the economic impact of an ethane cracker, associated polyethylene plants and downstream manufacturing,” said Witt, former director of WVU’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research. “As such, it is designed to provide guidance as to the jobs by occupation associated with the overall growth of a petrochemical industry in West Virginia. WVU Parkersburg and its collaborating workforce development agencies can use this information to prepare educational and workforce programs required by industry.”

Witt’s previous report evaluated the positive economic impacts with the construction and operation of a world-scale ethane cracker plant in West Virginia. The analysis focused on a hypothetical plant assuming full operation by 2022 with an annual operating cost of over $850 million with approximately 70 percent provided by in-state companies and local plant employees.

The report outlines other industries in the region likely to see growth with the development of a petrochemical complex. These include such sectors as food services, wholesale trade businesses, real estate, healthcare, legal services, retail and others.

“The potential growth of the petrochemical and manufacturing industries using natural gas and associated natural gas liquids, such as ethane, will be associated with new job opportunities for many West Virginians,” said Witt. “It is essential that we have the right workforce development programs in place to prepare our citizens to meet the needs of industry.”

“This report, along with other research, should provide guidance for WVU Parkersburg and its collaborators to implement programs meeting the needs of new industry arising from the continued growth of production from the Marcellus and Utica Shale plays within the state.”

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