'Energy Surge' Fuels Area Economy

Washington PA Observer Reporter
24 February 2012
By Michael Bradwell, Business editor

During the past year, Washington County attracted 45 economic development projects valued at nearly $200 million and was named third in the nation in employment growth and 11th in wage growth as the county continued to experience an "energy surge" created by the Marcellus Shale gas industry here.

Those figures were part of an assessment of recent economic growth presented by Washington County commissioners Thursday during the Washington County Chamber of Commerce's monthly breakfast briefing attended by more than 200 members at the new Range Resources regional headquarters in Southpointe II.

According to chamber Executive Director Jeff Kotula, 24 of the county's 45 economic development projects were energy-related company attraction and expansion projects, with 21 of those a direct result of the Marcellus Shale gas play.

"There is no question that the development of the energy industry has become a significant economic generator in our county and Washington County has emerged as the energy leader in Southwestern Pennsylvania," said county Commissioner Harlan Shober Jr., who noted Thursday's event was being held at Range's new $30 million regional headquarters building, where more than 400 of its employees now work.

In addition to Range's new home, Shober noted that Southpointe II is also home to Consol Energy Inc., the leading producer of high-energy bituminous coal in the U.S. and the country's largest underground coal mining company also has its $65 million global headquarters in the park.

"In fact, over the past few years, over 50 energy and energy-related companies have located within a one-mile radius of where I'm standing today," Shober said. "Not only are we the 'Energy Capital of the East,' but we also can be called 'Jobland,'" he said.

But energy isn't the only impetus to the county's economy. Commissioner Diana Irey Vaughan noted the county's five-year-old Local Share Account program, which uses a percentage of revenue from slot machine gambling at The Meadows Racetrack & Casino, has generated more than $46 million for 158 economic and workforce development and community improvement projects.

"In the past five years, we've been able to match our $46.3 million in LSA funds with over $233 million in additional federal, state and local monies," Irey Vaughan said. She noted the investments in business parks like Alta Vista and Starpointe as well as programs in job training, the expansion of the Washington County Airport, infrastructure and other job creation projects "are preparing us for future development and capitalizing on our existing assets."

All of those factors have worked to make Washington County a top performer in the region and the country, according to commission Chairman Larry Maggi.

"Washington County's economy continues to expand and outperform the Southwestern Pennsylvania region in terms of both economic development projects and job creation," said Maggi, who noted that in the first quarter of 2011, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics ranked it third in the nation of employment growth, with a rate of 4.3 percent.

"That translates into about 750 workers in the natural resources and mining sectors and approximately 900 in the professional services and business sectors for a conservative total of 1,650 new jobs in Washington County over the past year," Maggi said, adding the county has also seen an 8.8 percent increase in average weekly wages, placing it 11th among the country's largest counties.

According to Maggi, much of the growth can be attributed to county government's partnership with the local business community to create jobs and increase economic development activities through collaborative public-private efforts; low taxes as well as investments in infrastructure, business parks and other job creation projects.

"Other counties are now trying to model themselves after what we do here," Maggi said.