As good as Utica Shale natural gas-related economic activity is now in the Mahoning Valley, it's not as good as it gets, a Regional Chamber official says.
"2013 is the real year," Eric Planey, the chamber's vice president for international business attraction, said near the end of the first Youngstown Ohio Utica & Natural Gas Conference at the Covelli Centre.
Many companies that make parts or provide services for drilling rigs are waiting to see where the actual drilling occurs. Those suppliers need to be no more than 1 to 1 1/2 hours from the sites in order to serve customers, he said.
Developments on a two-mile long plot of land at the V&M Star / VAM USA complex along the Youngstown-Girard border are taking shape, as seen in this aerial shot looking east toward Brier Hill. Shown, with the green roof, is the new V&M Star rolling plant, still under construction. The building with the brown roof to the left of it will house the planned $57 million VAM USA plant.
Special to the Tribune Chronicle
"It's still early to see where rigs will drill into the ground," he said.
Most of the wells drilled so far in eastern Ohio have been south of Trumbull County, generally in Jefferson, Belmont, Carroll and neighboring counties.
While rich in shale natural gas and oil, experts note those largely rural areas lack the Warren-Youngstown area's manufacturing muscle to make compressors, pumps, steel pipe, motors and other items critical to drill as many as 9,000 feet into the ground to tap the energy riches.
French-German conglomerate Vallourec & Mannesmann Tubes is leading the manufacturing growth. Its V&M Star unit is well along on construction of a $650 million pipe mill that's expected to employ about 1,200 construction workers early next year, then about 350 full-time employees to make high-grade pipe for drillers.
Sister company VAM USA LLC announced at Wednesday's conference the renovation of a long-closed Youngstown Sheet & Tube building next to the new pipe plant to thread premium connections onto pipe to withstand intense pressures of drilling deep, horizontal wells.
Still on the table is a melt shop that was held back when V&M announced the pipe mill in February 2010, but company officials have declined to give any specifics.
The Mahoning Valley also offers an array of and training facilities, including Youngstown State University and area trades schools to train workers in engineering, chemistry, welding, pipefitting and other skills needed by energy companies.
One of the highlights of Wednesday's expo was YSU's announcement of plans to offer a minor in geology, environmental services and other disciplines to go along with a student's four-year bachelor's degree.
The goal is to have graduates with the necessary skills by May 2013, coinciding with Planey's view of a major rampup in jobs.
One recent study suggested that 200,000-plus jobs will be created by Utica Shale work, including nearly 9,000 in professional and technical services.