BROOKFIELD - In an area nationally known for closed factories and poverty, a business news network found growing signs of life - and good restaurants.
"If they have an image (of the Mahoning Valley), it's probably the Bruce Springsteen song, and it's all about crime and poverty and lost jobs and the failure of steel. Nothing positive, so it's nice to come here and hear some positive things and see some positive things happening," Jane Wells, California-based reporter for cable network CNBC, said Friday before a live newscast from the thriving TMK-IPSCO Premium pipe plant in Brookfield.
Wells' four-day, first-ever stay in the area began with the idea of doing a story about the impact of potential defense budget cuts from the congressional debt super committee.
CNBC's Jane Wells visits TMK-IPSCO's Brookfield plant.
She said she visited RTI International Metals Inc.'s titanium mill in Weathersfield to show the effect cuts would have on a small defense supplier. RTI relies on defense for about 30 percent of its business.
The committee has until Wednesday to announce ways to cut at least $1.2 trillion from the nation's debt over 10 years. If it fails, defense and nondefense spending will share equally in that amount of cuts.
Because it's Green Week on CNBC - natural gas is cleaner burning than coal or oil - the network also decided to report on the area's booming natural gas shale drilling industry, taking her to Dearing Compressor and Pump in Boardman and to TMK.
Tribune Chronicle photos / Larry Ringler
Vicki Avril, president and chief executive officer of TMK-IPSCO’s Brookfield plant, explains two of the precision couplers the plant makes to join steel tubes used in natural gas drilling.
She reported live from inside the plant about 11:40 a.m. Friday, while some of the plant's 72 mostly production workers behind her threaded and processed pipes used in drilling by Chesapeake Energy and other exploration companies.
Drillers use a controversial practice called hydraulic fracking, in which water is forced into horizontal drill holes at high pressure to crack shale rock deep underground and release the gas.
The Brookfield plant also makes couplers with threading precise within several thousandths of an inch to connect pipes for drilling.
The couplers must be able to withstand a 30-degree bend for every 100 feet the pipe is curved in the horizontal drilling process, according to David Green, director of plant operations.
The couplers also must withstand intense pressure of water being forced through the pipe to fracture the shale rock, he said.
Hydraulic fracking is drawing sharp criticism in some areas for potentially contaminating well water, along with creating millions of gallons of waste water that must be disposed.
Wells said her report focused on the expected thousands of jobs being created by the drilling frenzy, but added, "If the technology proves to have problems - mineral rights, water quality - we'll cover it then."
Jobs are what TMK and other energy-related companies are providing through Pennsylvania, New York, eastern Ohio and other states where an estimated trillions of cubic feet of natural gas is located.
Vicki Avril, president and chief executive officer of TMK IPSCO, said the 110,000-square-foot Brookfield plant is set up to add a third pipe-threading line, creating 30 "very technical, skilled jobs" to work "pretty much around the clock."
She said there's no forecast when a third line will be added, but said the company hasn't had any problems finding workers.
Wells said she didn't have any trouble finding good area restaurants. She said she and the crew ate at Leo's Ristorante in Howland, Alberini's in Niles and the Upstairs Lounge in Austintown.
"I found a lot of great food - I think I gained five pounds - and met a lot of great people," she said.