''People get ready.'' When I see all that is developing in the Mahoning Valley, those inspiring words sung by Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions 47 years ago continue to replay in the back of my mind. So much has changed since those words inspired awakening and awareness almost a half-century ago, but their core message still applies today in so many ways.
Opportunity and victory belong to the prepared. Those who fail to see and act upon what is before them will miss the first bite of the apple, and will find themselves playing catch-up. Too many will find themselves left behind, wondering what happened, and grasping for crumbs.
It has been so many decades since our region experienced widespread prosperity that two generations have no personal memory of what it looked like. I saw it flourish in my youth, and then watched it crumble before my eyes as I began my career.
For decades, the skies glowed red from the direction of the complex of steel mills along the Mahoning River. Thousands of skilled, disciplined men worked around the clock in hazardous conditions, drawing hot metal from ore and coal, and crafting it into sheets, bars, billets and seamless pipe.
Their work provided the personal wealth that built neighborhoods and businesses, and created a quality of life known as the American Dream. One wage earner could bring home enough for a family to own a home, drive new cars, and shop in the array of downtown stores, plazas and malls. Dozens of great locally owned restaurants, most of which are now only memories, were filled along our commercial highways.
What we have today pales in comparison, since Youngstown Sheet & Tube, US Steel, and Republic Steel closed in the 1970s. We were hurt, but not completely destroyed, because some things had been done right. General Motors diversified our local economy with its Delphi/Packard Electric and Lordstown facilities. RTI/RMI carved a niche market in titanium, while a variety of other companies put our peoples' industrial skills to work producing an array of products.
Crucial to preparing for our recovery was the preservation of some valuable industrial assets, including the old Youngstown Sheet & Tube Brier Hill complex, now used by V & M Star. The old Warren Republic Steel blast furnace and continuous caster were productive until weeks ago, when the owners' cash flow forced a shutdown. The steel that plant produces will be needed here and now to meet the demand created by our latest industrial opportunity, shale gas development.
Below eastern Ohio and the states on our eastern border, ancient vegetation was trapped in shale rock formed from sediment mud in prehistoric sea beds. Now under about a mile of rock layers, trillions of cubic feet of gas have been fermenting and polymerizing for hundreds of millions of years. In addition to simple methane natural gas can be found butane, propane, ethane and even crude oil.
We have the materials for energy independence and the plastics industry in our region, but we need to be prepared to use it to create jobs and prosperity to surpass our glory days of Big Steel. Bigger than the drilling operations will be the ''midstream'' industries, processing the gasses from these wells into fuel and products. These will be the long-term opportunities, continuing decades after the wells are drilled and producing.
These gas industry jobs will be as demanding and rewarding as the steelworker jobs of decades past. Welders and drilling rig hands are taking home more than $1,000 per week. With added skills and experience, six-figure incomes are there for those who will accept the challenge of the drilling rigs. Vendors providing equipment, materials and services to the drillers will need even more skilled workers. CDL truck drivers will be needed to keep these operations supplied on time.
These jobs will be here soon, and will be offered to those who are prepared with the skills and drug-free discipline required for this demanding work. These jobs will go to people brought from other states, if our local population cannot meet this demand. With the variety of training programs offered by our local institutions including New Castle School of Trades, Eastern Gateway Community College, and YSU there is no excuse for missing this opportunity, so ''people get ready.''
Pirko is a Weathersfield resident.