Corbett: Energy could re-industrialize state

Posted September 28, 2012

By Michael Bradwell, Business editor
Observer Reporter

Gov. Tom Corbett on Thursday urged several hundred young professionals working in the region’s energy industry to think creatively and to be innovative in helping to lead Pennsylvania into a new era of prosperity.

Corbett, the keynote speaker for a quarterly meeting of the Pittsburgh chapter of the Young Professionals in Energy, told the audience of 400 engineers, attorneys, geologists and others that they have the ability to help the state continue its drive to become a leading industrial state.

The 3-year-old organization represents several thousand professionals who work in the oil, gas, coal, wind, nuclear, solar and electric generation industries across Western Pennsylvania.

In remarks made during a 30-minute speech at the Hilton Garden Inn in Southpointe, Corbett recalled the grim days of the 1980s when Pennsylvania’s mills closed and much of its skilled labor exited the state for jobs in Sunbelt states.

 “We have the chance to get back, and we are getting it back,” Corbett said.

Recalling a newspaper columnist’s comment from 30 years ago who said Pennsylvania was “America’s former address,” Corbett said, “I reject that, because we are the future.” He also said that the energy industry, led by natural gas, but also coal, nuclear, solar and wind, is responsible for creating thousands of jobs within the state.

But that is only the first step in helping Pennsylvania regain its industrial might, he added.

The goal, he said, “is not to become an exporter of all the energy, but to have people come here and re- industrialize Pennsylvania.”

“You are the tip of the tip of the spear of the new industrial revolution,” Corbett told the audience.

His remarks were buttressed by those of Dennis Yabolonsky, chief executive officer of the Allegheny Conference, who introduced the governor.

Yablonsky noted that in the 10 counties that make up Southwestern Pennsylvania, there are now 800 energyrelated companies directly employing 50,000 people.

He noted that the combined energy industries make an annual economic impact of $19 billion, or about 15 percent of the total economy here.

The natural gas economy produced by the Marcellus Shale play is now beginning to create a broader industrial revolution, he added.

Yablonsky noted that according to a recent Pennsylvania Economy League study, the proposed Shell Oil ethane cracker plant in Beaver County is projected to create 18,000 construction jobs, and somewhere between 2,000 and 8,000 jobs related to the plant’s operation, creating nearly $5 billion of economic impact.

Last week, the Allegheny Conference released the results of a survey of 37 natural gas production companies which said they anticipate hiring thousands of people with skilled trades through 2020.

Corbett said that according to the state Department of Labor’s Center for Workforce Analysis, there are now 240,000 jobs in the state tied to the natural gas industry, with 30,000 people working directly in the core Marcellus Shale industry.

While the numbers are impressive, Corbett said, “We need to continue to grow other industries, not just energy.”

He said the state is in a position to achieve that goal because of its location – it’s within a day’s drive of 60 percent of the population of North America; its trainable workforce; and its inexpensive energy costs.

During his 20 months in office, Corbett said he’s worked to reduce a $4.2 billion deficit, while trying to guide the state back from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

While the natural gas industry has helped keep Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate lower than the national average over the past several years, “we need to grow more,” Corbett said.

The governor also defended the passage of Act 13, which created an impact fee for drillers of natural gas, returning much of the revenue to counties and municipalities.

The law also created uniform zoning requirements across the Marcellus region, a point that is being legally challenged by several Washington County townships and several other municipalities in the state.

Corbett noted that previous Gov. Ed Rendell was quoted as saying that a tax on drillers could raise $100 million, but said the initial impact fee collected this summer raised nearly $200 million.