State DCED secretary predicts Mon Valley's industrial rebirth
Decades ago, Pennsylvania failed to protect such basic industries as steel, rail and coal, C. Alan Walker said in a presentation Tuesday on the region's economy.
That led to the “deindustrialization of our economy,” the state Department of Community and Economic Development secretary said.
“But that's about to change,” said Walker, who spoke Tuesday at the Willow Room in Rostraver Township.
The event was sponsored by the Mon Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Mon Yough Chamber of Commerce, the Mon Valley Progress Council and the Greater Rostraver Chamber of Commerce.
Walker discussed Gov. Tom Corbett's JOBS1st PA initiative and the state economy.
He said the state is well positioned to take advantage of a natural gas boom.
JOBS1st PA focuses on two core areas: Make It in PA and Talented Workers.
Under Make it in PA, Corbett's proposed budget provides an increase of $600,000 to help Pennsylvania companies export products to international markets and to attract new foreign direct investment.
Pennsylvania companies increased exports by 5.4 percent in 2013. He pointed to World Kitchen in Charleroi, which was represented at the luncheon, as a local example of that success.
Talented Workers includes a $2 million allocation to the Workforce & Economic Development Network of Pennsylvania to train an additional 10,000 employees.
“The governor recognizes that nothing is more critical to growing the economy than a talented work force,” Walker said.
Walker criticized Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls for claiming the administration has cut education funding.
He said school districts became too dependent on federal stimulus money provided in the wake of the Great Recession. He said state financial support for public education and the State System of Higher Education has increased in each year of the Corbett administration.
The State System of Higher Education oversees 14 state-owned universities, including California University of Pennsylvania.
“When the stimulus stopped, the money wasn't there,” said Walker, adding that many districts did not prepare for the loss of that funding source. “The governor is a big believer in education.”
Walker said tourism marketing – a key component of the JOBS1st PA – is often overlooked because the money is spent on the county level.
Walker said Pennsylvania's economy is the sixth-largest in the nation and ranks 21st in the world. Employment tops 6 million workers with unemployment at a five-year low of 6.2 percent.
The Governor's Action Team completed 102 successful projects in 2013, up from 79 in 2012, Walker said.
State growth is being fueled by the Marcellus shale industry, Walker claimed, adding Pennsylvania has the second-largest energy field in the world.
Walker said the Marcellus shale impact fee is benefitting Washington County. He criticized Democratic candidates for governor who want to impose a severance fee on Marcellus shale drillers.
“For you in Washington County, that would be a big mistake,” Walker said. “The severance tax goes into the general fund. The money would go to the populated areas. The impact fee goes to the areas where drilling occurs.”
Impact fees have pumped $630 million into local municipalities, “to invest in your roads and downtowns,” Walker said.
Walker said Washington County's economy has experienced the third-fastest growth rate in the nation since the Marcellus shale industry came to the region.
Walker said there is a direct tie between development of industrial parks and economic growth.
“Literally, if you build it, they will come,” Walker said.
He used as an example the City of Williamsport, the seat of Lycoming County in north central Pennsylvania.
In the aftermath of industrial decline, Williamsport built an industrial park that was filled by offices for a Marcellus shale company, bringing with it 1,200 jobs.
Walker said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' $74.7 million allocation to the Lower Mon Project will speed up completion of a locks and dams project on the Monongahela River that is more than a decade behind schedule.
“It will truly unlock growth in this area,” Walker said. “There's a new energy in Pennsylvania. You can feel the surge in our economy.”
Walker said he is confident a petrochemical plant will be constructed in Beaver County.
The so-called “cracker” plant under consideration by Royal Dutch Shell would use ethane from gas drilling in nearby shale fields to produce plastics and other products.
Walker said the economic surge will be felt up and down the region's rivers.
“I think Allenport will be developed,” Walker said of the Mon River Industrial Group's plans to convert the former steel mill site into an industrial park.
“I see a reindustrialization of the Mon Valley.”
Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or firstname.lastname@example.org.