Oh-Penn business leaders are taking a long-term optimistic view of their regional economy.
The oil and gas boom in the Oh-Penn Interstate Region is more than just a passing fancy. The rush of drilling and pipeline production across region, located in the heart of the Marcellus and Utica Shale formations, has resulted in multimillion-dollar investments in manufacturing plants, equipment and jobs across the five-county area. While the plummeting price of oil worldwide has caused drilling activity to level off, the surge in oil and gas production locally has brought a lasting boost to other industries in the area, including manufacturing, transportation and construction. Since 2010, the Mahoning Valley and adjacent areas have seen nearly 4,000 direct and indirect jobs created from shale development and a total investment of more than $5 billion, according to statistics from the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber. “Overall, oil and gas activity here will have a positive impact on long-term opportunities for our region,” says Sarah Boyarko, the chamber’s vice president for economic development. “We are seeing broader job and career opportunities for our recent graduates beyond just energy-related positions.” The energy boom has also spurred record investments in housing, retail and hospitality projects throughout the region, Boyarko says.
Opportunities for Manufacturers
Oil and gas production across the area has brought growth for many existing manufacturers with deep roots in the region like Evets Fabrication, a division of Girard-based VEC, Inc. The firm, which fabricates pipes for the oil and gas industry, recently built a new $4 million, 22,000-square-foot facility in Hubbard, Ohio, after outgrowing its older facility. More than 30 new jobs will eventually be created with the expansion, bringing employment to 108 workers. Ease of access to Interstate 80 and proximity to customers with operations in the region were the primary reasons for building the new plant in Hubbard, VEC CEO Rex Ferry says. “We are delighted to see this growth in our own backyard and put people back to work,” Ferry says. “We believe there are long-term opportunities for us and the energy industry in this region for years to come.” Other VEC subsidiaries are a single-source provider for much of the construction activity in the energy industry, both in the Oh-Penn region and elsewhere, Ferry says. The investments local industry leaders are pouring into infrastructure for oil and gas drilling will make the area more economically viable for the future, he adds. Newcomers like Houston-based Exterran Energy Solutions are also putting down stakes in the region. In 2013, the firm completed construction of a 65,000-square-foot production equipment fabrication plant in Youngstown, where more than 100 workers produce materials to treat and process natural gas and oil after extraction from the ground. Exterran leaders say they located the plant in the Oh-Penn region because of the quality of the workforce and proximity to their customers. TMK IPSCO expanded its Brookfield, Ohio plant in 2011 to meet rising demand for its tubular energy products used in oil and gas well drilling. Houston-based affiliate firms V&M Star and VAM USA have also invested millions in steel pipe production and finishing plants in the Girard area, pumping hundreds of jobs into the region over the past few years.
Startups Emerge From Shale Boom
The oil and gas boom has also created opportunities for innovators looking for new ways to serve energy companies. One such startup is Boardman, Ohio-based Triptech 3D, which has developed a process to manufacture welding rods for oil and gas drillers. The firm started out producing plastic filaments to use as feedstock for 3-D printers, and now its extrusion presses make plastic welding rods used by oil and gas workers to fasten and secure large, plastic liners on well pads. Triptech 3D hopes to sell the devices to oil companies around the world. Triptech 3D CEO Charles George also owns Hapco, Inc., a Kent, Ohio firm that supplies the oil and gas industry with welding equipment, plastic tarps and handheld extruders. George hopes to transfer his expertise working with the industry into his new application and sees great potential in the region, which he praises for its plentiful labor pool and supportive local government agencies. “We are excited about this new product, and we are also excited that the infrastructure in this region is such that the oil and gas industry will be viable here for years to come,” George says.