Known for 35 years as part of the nation's Rust Belt, the Mahoning Valley is gaining a reputation as a hotbed of capital investment and job creation.
In a "Road to Economic Recovery" fact sheet released Monday, the Regional Chamber noted the area since 2008 has attracted investments of $1.5 billion, creation of 5,098 jobs and the retention of 7,840 other positions.
Despite some economic clouds - a series of earthquakes that some believe are linked to the shale natural gas drilling boom, along with questions about the future of a shale wastewater processor in Warren and the proposed World Trade Center in Youngstown - the numbers point to genuine progress since the Valley began shrinking in 1977 with the loss of its steel industry.
Tribune Chronicle file photo
Chris Ensign of Lordstown, chassis launch manager, views a test Cruze as the car moves along the assembly line at GM Lordstown.
"These are actual projects that we've worked on that have been announced and approved. They're not just in the talking stages," chamber spokesman Tony Paglia said.
Billing the area was "North America's Center for Utica and Marcellus Shale Play Business," the chamber pointed to V&M Star's construction of a $650 million, 1-million-square- foot-plant, where 350 workers will use advanced manufacturing to make steel pipe for drilling into shale rock formations as deep as 8,000 feet.
The French-German company announced Nov. 30 at the chamber's Youngstown Ohio Utica & Natural Gas, or YOUNG, 2011 conference and trade show that its VAM USA LLC unit will spend $57 million to build a 200,000-square-foot finishing plant next to the new pipe mill. The new operation will create 100 jobs.
On the recovery road
2008: 16 projects, $432.2 million investments, 2,004 new jobs, $63.8 million new payroll, 3,608 retained jobs, $188.9 million retained payroll
2009: 20 projects, $80.8 million investments, 2,052 new jobs, $27.1 million new payroll, 1,685 retained jobs, $39 million retained payroll
2010: 19 projects, $775.6 million investments, 1,209 new jobs, $40.2 million new payroll, 1,499 retained jobs, $60.2 million retained payroll
2011: 20 projects, $207.6 million investments, 833 new jobs, $35.7 million new payroll, 1,048 retained jobs, $43.0 million retained payroll
TOTAL: 75 projects, $1.5 billion investments, 5,098 new jobs, $166.8 million new payroll, 7,840 retained jobs, $331.1 million retained payroll
Source: Regional Chamber
Potholes on recovery road
A series of earthquakes in 2011, capped by a 4.0 quake on Dec. 31, that some believe stems from an injection well where wastewater from hydraulic fracturing is pumped at high pressure deep into the earth
Patriot Water Treatment LLC of Warren, which faces the loss of its permit to treat low-salt waste frack water due to changes made by state regulators
Proposed World Trade Center, which remains under consideration by the Regional Chamber
Proposed changes in Ohio EPA waste water salt discharge levels that could force area employers to spend money to build their own water pre-treatment plants
Another highlight of the trade show, which drew a sold-out 1,750 to what the chamber called Ohio's first Utica Shale play conference, was Youngstown State University's announcement that it will launch the Natural Gas and Water Resources Institute to prepare students for Utica Shale jobs.
The Valley's resurgence goes beyond natural gas drilling. The longtime pillar - General Motors Co.'s 4,500-worker Lordstown Complex, is working around the clock to build the hot-selling Chevrolet Cruze compact car.
RG Steel LLC's 1,000-worker mill on Warren's south side has continued to operate even while sister plants in other states were idled.
Besides manufacturing, the distribution sector added to the area's growth with the arrival of fast-food products supplier Anderson-Dubose Inc., which will add 160 jobs with its $30 million distribution center and headquarters in Lordstown.
After years of stories about the area's economic woes, national and international newspapers and other media are noticing the comeback.
The chamber noted the Brookings Institute listed the Metropolitan Statistical Area, including Mercer County in Pennsylvania, first among the nation's largest 100 metro areas for its one-year jobless rate decrease in the last year.
Forbes business magazine pointed out the area has the fifth highest manufacturing growth in the United States in the past year.
Reporting on the oil and gas boom, CNN Money reported Youngstown that "America's next boom town is Youngstown."
Governing Magazine in February even dubbed Youngstown one of the next cool places to live.
Paglia acknowledged question marks remain.
A big one is the series of earthquakes, small at first before ending the year with a 4.0 quake on New Year's Eve, that cracked walls and rattled residents.
The quakes have been traced to injection wells that dispose of waste water from hydraulic fracturing drill sites by pumping it under high pressure deep into the ground.
Paglia said that Chesapeake Energy, the leader in leasing land in eastern Ohio, plans to continue drilling in Ohio's Utica Shale, which contains oil and "wet gas" - gas that contains propane, butane and other gases that have a market even during the current glut of natural gas.
"Drilling needs to be done right, and the industry is committed to doing that," Paglia said.
Paglia acknowledged Patriot Water Treatment's future remains unclear after state regulators changed requirements that Patriot already had met to get its initial permit to treat low-salt drilling waste water in the city of Warren.
"We've been working with state officials and hope the issues can be resolved," he said.
The Regional Chamber still is considering a World Trade Center in downtown Youngstown, but has been cautious due to markets, Paglia said.
"We're looking at federal tax programs that this project could benefit from. We haven't given up on it," he said.