Port Authority to focus on jobs, workers

MARIETTA – Attracting industry jobs to the area and helping develop skilled laborers to work those jobs will be the focus of the Southeastern Ohio Port Authority for 2013, according to members who gathered for an annual meeting Tuesday.

The port authority members discussed what was accomplished in 2012 and what is to come at the meeting in the Graham Auditorium at Washington State Community College.

New Chairman of the Board Tom Webster said the area is in better shape now than in 2012 as far as development.

“We are never where we ultimately want to be, but we are in pretty great shape overall,” he said.

It’s a more positive outlook than port authority Executive Director Terry Tamburini had a year ago.

At that time Tamburini recalled that he wasn’t feeling optimistic about local growth.

“I said we would never have a large population increase and we wouldn’t receive many of the good jobs that larger cities would get,” said Tamburini. “But, boy does it look like I was wrong.”

The recent resurgence of the oil and gas industry is a second chance for the area, said Tamburini.

“We haven’t seen opportunities like this since companies like Public Debt and Union Carbide were introduced to the area in the 1940s,” said Tamburini. “This is the most exciting time of potential growth for the area in years.”

That’s why the port authority plans to focus on marketing the area and the benefits that it provides to industries.

Open houses with brokers from companies in the oil and gas industry will be held in cities that include Pittsburgh, Columbus, Cleveland and possibly Houston, according to Evan Wetz, committee chair of the Southeastern Ohio Port Authority.

These events serve as networking tools for the port authority to communicate directly with the brokers of multiple companies.

“Many organizations are in need of buildings and resources in the area, but have little knowledge of what’s available,” said Tamburini. “These events are a good way to let oil and gas folks who are new to the area know about the opportunities.”

One of the opportunities that will soon be available to prospective companies is the Ingenuity Center, which is scheduled to be finished by this fall.

“This has been in development for about three years,” said Jim Black, Port Authority board member. “Last year we were finally able to get all of the paperwork finished so we hope to be finished this year.”

The building is going to be an area for businesses looking to set up a manufacturing facility and will be at the North 7 Business Park in Reno, said Black.

Plans are for construction to begin soon.

The 35,000-square-foot facility will be paid for by four grants totaling $1.8 million and a loan of $500,000 for a total cost of around $2.2 million, said Black.

“The concept behind the facility is to have high technology jobs in there. It won’t just be a warehouse,” said Black. “It should be a facility that employs around 25 to 30 people.”

Once jobs are brought to the area, local workers will need the skills to be able to step in and work, said Tamburini.

“We need to find a way to rekindle young peoples’ interest in skilled labor positions,” said Tamburini. “It’s crucial to keeping jobs in the area for our young people.”

For members of the Port Authority, the best way to do that is to find a way to bridge the gap between industry and academics, said Tamburini.

The continued use of the Third Frontier Internship Program is one of the ways that members of the port authority hope to increase the number of skilled workers available. The Third Frontier Internship Program was implemented by the port authority for its 10 surrounding counties in 2006. The goal is to match businesses in the private sector with interns who are attending an academic institution in Ohio, said Michele Tipton, grant manager for the port authority.

Interns are placed with businesses that include advanced energy, information technology, bioscience and many other types of manufacturing positions.

The port authority’s goal is that the program will help train skilled workers for the future and encourage them to take jobs available around this area.

Tamburini noted that if workers in the area aren’t prepared for the types of skilled labor positions that will soon be needed, those jobs will be lost.

“Companies will bring workers from other states to fill these jobs if our workers are unprepared,” he said.