October 11, 2018
Beaver County Times
Pennsylvania’s population and economic growth are stagnant, but a report published Thursday has a solution: capitalize on the “historic opportunity” presented by the state’s natural gas reserves to craft a “new, vibrant and growing” state.
The 22-page report, called Forge the Future, was undertaken by a consortium of businesses across Pennsylvania that banded together to plan how to best capitalize on the burgeoning energy industry in the state.
While companies such as Chevron and Peoples Gas helped spearhead the study, other companies including Shell Chemicals and FirstEnergy participated in it, as did several universities, government boards and trade groups. All together, more than 100 organizations participated.
The report didn’t mince words when talking about the economic opportunities presented by the natural gas industry. It concluded the state’s gross domestic product could increase by $60 billion while 100,000 new jobs could be realized, as well as several billions of dollars in new tax revenues.
Despite that, those numbers and projections can only be realized if state policymakers and agencies undertake significant reforms.
Suggestions contained within the study include comprehensive tax reforms, a regulatory environment that fosters growth and innovation, investment in infrastructure upgrades, and streamlined permitting processes for businesses interested in building here.
The study also pointed to specific steps state leaders can take to make the area more attractive and poised for growth.
Specifically, it called for the development of ethane storage and distribution hubs, expanded investment in natural gas pipelines and investing in site development “targeted to the needs of petrochemical manufacturers.”
The authors of the study repeated a claim that’s been made before: With the right amount of investment and incentives, Pennsylvania could soon become a “world-class petrochemical hub” with three to five ethane cracker plants.
Pennsylvania is already an “ideal location for the emergence of a second major petrochemical manufacturing hub in the United States” because of its natural gas reserves, proximity to customers and markets, and abundant waterways that allow for easier transport, according to the study.
But state leaders need to do more than just enact regulatory reforms. The study suggested that leaders must create an educational awareness program to foster “a more thorough understanding of the historic economic growth potential afforded by our vast energy resources.”
In addition, workforce development boards across the state must work together to form a “broad-based collaboration” to ensure enough workers will be available to fill jobs when they become available, according to the study.
In commenting on the study, David Taylor, president of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association, said the state has a chance to become the “epicenter of next-generation advanced manufacturing” and to be a domestic leader in the energy industry.
Despite that, time might be running out to fully capitalize on this emerging industry.
“The window of opportunity for Pennsylvania to realize this vision is short,” Taylor said. “We must take action now.”
Gene Barr, president of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce, said the state’s “uncompetitive tax structure and a lack of infrastructure” are already causing Pennsylvania to lose out on lucrative economic opportunities.
“Pennsylvanians deserve better, and this report puts forth an active, strategic agenda to make energy-enabled growth a reality,” he said. “It should serve as a catalyst for a much-needed statewide effort to help advance a stronger economy and ensure that Pennsylvania remains a world-class energy hub for generations to come.”
Anyone interested in viewing the report can visit www.paforgethefuture.com.