Cracker Plant

Considering there were no promises made that an ethane cracker plant actually will be built, there was a massive amount of enthusiasm generated in the wake of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s press conference Thursday afternoon at West Virginia University at Parkersburg’s Caperton Center.

Tomblin, flanked by officials of the Brazilian-based, multinational conglomerate Odebrecht, told the assembled media and other officials that the company is considering the present SABIC location for a cracker plant, which could be built at an undetermined time.

The story was the lead news around the state and was picked up by newspapers around the nation.

Tomblin was certainly cautious with his language, and we also should be cautious with our expectations. The governor referred Odebrecht’s ” prospective location for the potential development … .” However, we also should be encouraged by both Tomblin’s enthusiasm for the project and his optimism it will come to fruition. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “this project is a game changer.”

We always need opportunities for new jobs in the Mid-Ohio Valley and are always excited about new businesses opening here. In the past few years, we have had many grand openings for several auto parts stores, restaurants, convenience stores and others. And each of these businesses have hired local people.

However, since the late 1940s, manufacturing jobs have been the foundation of the Mid-Ohio Valley. Manufacturing jobs have bought homes and cars. They have paid for college and provide for retirement for several generations.

But, during the past 25 years, Wood County’s manufacturing foundation has become cracked and has not been able to carry the load as it had in the past. To emphasize this point, even as this announcement was being made, SABIC announced its plant – a longtime Wood County employer in its own right as Mar-Bon, BorgWarner and then as GE, would be closing in 18 months, eliminating approximately 100 jobs. SABIC officials say the company will consolidate operations in Illinois and Mississippi and had been in the works for some time.

This makes Odebrecht’s potential cracker plant – one that would involve a multi-billion-dollar investment, employ at least 10,000 people in the construction phase alone and numerous permanent workers when it opens – worth the excitement it has generated.

Yes, we need to temper our hopes as Odebrecht gets set to begin the marathon of hurdles it will have to leap before anything comes of this project.

Yet couched with caution, it is good news.