AP — The oil and gas boom has brought related business and industry to the area, from the influx of people to the expansion of the industrial parks.
Growth is evident in the construction of new housing along U.S. 40, from the executive to middle class, to condominiums and trailer parks for transitory labor. Commissioner Matt Coffland said the availability of new housing sites is a draw for business and industry, along with shopping and entertainment sites.
“There is a lot of home building west of St. Clairsville,” Coffland said, noting there was generally more land available there than on the riverfront.
“If they make the investment in a home, they’re hanging around,” he said.
He also noted the importance of promoting all the county has to offer. “There’s competition everywhere recruiting new business.”
He noted the investments of businesses such as Murray Energy and the potential for a cracker plant in Shadyside.
Coffland added that the county also keeps in touch with established businesses.
“That’s really important to us, our base, the jobs, businesses and residents who’ve been here for years,” he said.
Heath Smith of Pivotal Propane began his business five years prior. He now runs a fleet of five delivery trucks with seven employees. They service about 2,000 customers, including the demands of national conglomerates and the increased residential house building.
“Gas and oil has been very beneficial to us. So has the residential,” he said.
Meanwhile, Jason Searson, division manager of Shallenberger Construction, Inc., said operations now include 60 employees. He is from South Georgia and added that many experienced workers with the new processes in the industry have come from that region, however, he added that the company prefers using local employees as a cost-saving measure. He said the former employees of the coal industry represent a strong source of experienced employees.
“What we’re looking for right now is good, experienced heavy equipment operators, and that pool right now, we found, it mainly coming from the coal industry,” he said. “That’s where we’re finding the majority of these people. There is a transition period. Coming from a mining perspective to a civil construction perspective, it takes some time to get them there. It’s not impossible. As far as the learning curve goes, it’s less than trying to start a guy green.”
He said they are also looking at trainees. He added that the local businesses have been welcoming and cooperative. Their own business has molded itself to the rigors and demands of the oil and gas industry, with them required to complete a well pad in 30 to 60 days.
Coffland noted pipelines and oil operation in the south of the county, compressor stations, pipelines and well being constructed in the north.
Coffland added that residents have noticed growing pains such as the resultant heavy traffic on much of the county’s roads.
“That goes with a county that’s growing and moving forward,” he said.
Sue Douglass, executive director of the Belmont County Community Improvement Corporation, noted the progress made.
“In Belmont County we’re seeing emerging opportunities we’ve never seen in this valley,” she said, adding that the growth is diverse and non-traditional. “Demand has grown.”
She also pointed out the related service businesses such as food and cleaning, with restaurants offering more meal delivery services to work sites. Work in construction has also increased, including a demand for handymen, plumbing and contracting. She also pointed out legal services, engineering and on-site support. Area high school classes have been geared toward technology related fields.
“We started a whole new development curve based on what oil and gas is doing,” she said. “We’re tryin to see where needs are and fill them.”
She cited the need for water testing as one example, adding that there are many new businesses in the developmental stage and other businesses have followed the industry here and the CIC was trying to assist locals in getting employment by building a pool of skilled and trained workers.
Port Authority Director Larry Merry commented on this growth due to the oil and gas investment.
“The community is getting larger. Retail business is growing with manufacturing and distribution,” he said, noting the increased use of aggregate and activity in stoneyards and increase in trucking and fuel demands. He commented on both the transitory labor and permanent investment. While the county’s involvement included expanding infrastructure and obtaining funds to extend water and sewer, the port authority also reaches out to interested businesses to inform of them of the advantage of the riverside location.
Commissioner Ginny Favede also pointed out the opportunities provided by events such as the Ohio Valley Oil and Gas Expo, which has allowed employers to make connections and determine the needs and service available.
Favede added that planned economic development began in 2009. The strategic plan has been invaluable guide. She also noted the county’s investment in the turnaround of the Ohio Valley Mall.
“People do make a living on retail jobs and retail is very important to Belmont County. The sales tax is what builds up our general fund, and we have had a $4 million increase in sales tax from 2011-2014, and that is a direct result of the increase of retail sales facilities as well as retail sales activity.”
“In last few years the economy in Belmont County has turned a corner and is on a continual upswing,” said Commissioner Mark Thomas, adding that the area has capitalized on infrastructure, transportation facilities and location in the heart of the shale boom. The influx of people and business related companies from shale industries have an effect on the economy. Developers and business owners are expanding, causing a domino effect. “When the economy is good and interest rates are low, private industry likes to develop.”