Tri-State Shale Summit Spotlights Regional Cooperation

Oct 29, 2015 Education, Government

Keynote Speaker Nigel Hearne, President Chevron Appalachia Business Unit

The most recent initiative of Power of 32's shared vision for a thriving region is to promote economic activity based upon shale gas.

That initiative gained significant momentum at the recent Tri-State Shale Summit in Morgantown, W.V., on October 13, when Governor Earl Ray Tomblin of West Virginia, Lieutenant Governor Mary Taylor of Ohio and Governor Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania signed a three-year agreement to enhance regional cooperation and job growth through the continuing development of shale gas in the Appalachian Basin. The agreement is built upon the understanding that ultimate prosperity flows to where value is added to a raw material, and that this region needs to maximize opportunities to develop modern manufacturing and other "downstream" activities related to shale gas.

As part of the new agreement, the three neighboring states within the Appalachian Basin will discuss ways to cooperate in marketing efforts to attract new businesses, strengthen workforce development programs, spur investments in expanding infrastructure and delivery of natural gas and liquids, and encourage its academic institutions to expand and collaborate on research.

"The issues and opportunities facing our growing oil and gas industry do not recognize state lines, making it essential that we work together to help ensure the continued growth we expect to see," said Ohio Lt. Governor Mary Taylor, who represented the state and signed the agreement. "We are seeing tremendous and continued growth in this industry and we know that can be strengthened by partnering on key areas."

Unified Super Region

The summit was a collaborative effort on behalf of the three states to bring to light the potential for the future of Marcellus & Utica Shale in the region. With a focus on regionalism and collaboration, the event set the precedent for cooperation and future progress with innovative panels featuring experts on Manufacturing, Workforce & Education, and Research & Innovation.

According to Ken Zapinski, senior vice president of energy and infrastructure with the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, the summit brought business leaders, policy makers, academics and government officials together to "understand the scope of the opportunity and to start conversations about how to work collaboratively to positon the region to be a competitor to the Gulf Coast or other petro chemical areas in the world."

A joint statement from the economic development organizations behind the summit – the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, Team NEO and Vision Shared – says that "in the truest definition of a summit, top leaders from government, business, academia and foundation philanthropy have come together – setting aside state border boundaries – to move forward as a unified super region eager to make the most of the enormous economic development opportunity for downstream manufacturing presented by Marcellus and Utica Shale gas."

According to Jim Denova, vice president of the Benedum Foundation and a speaker on the Workforce & Education panel, the summit was emblematic of the Power of 32, a collaborative initiative to improve the future of 32+ counties in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia by bridging borders and recognizing shared challenges and opportunities.

"Throughout the event, we saw the tristate area represented and discussed as one region," explains Denova. "The Workforce & Education panel, for example, reiterated that we are hiring from a tri-state labor pool on any part of the line, and we need high-quality but standardized course work that is aligned with industry needs. We also heard corporate, educational and government leaders saying this is a common area — we are not separate jurisdictions when it comes to the economy."

Zapinski says that the agreement – and the summit – sends a message to the investment community that this is a region that has its act together. "It also sends a message to the practitioners that there is regional commitment and momentum, and you want to be part of this."

Coordinated Efforts

Exact next steps are to be determined, but the three economic groups will work with the state governments to set up working groups in key areas including workforce development, investment strategies, academic research and infrastructure.

"Marketing and promotion are part of it," points out Zapinski, " but there are real things to tackle like workforce development, infrastructure and getting universities to work together so that it's an attractive reason for companies to invest in the region."

The summit was an extension of the collaboration of the three economic groups, says Zapinski. "We recognize that the conversation is much broader."

In their statement at the summit, the economic groups jointly declared, "This is a critical step toward demonstrating that our tri-state region is ready, willing and able to make downstream-related business investment a win-win for the region and for the firms – large and small – that have operations in this geographic footprint."

Window of Opportunity

Zapinski wasn't surprised by the success of the summit.

"It was a good message — a good story to tell," he recounts. "We were able to point to real opportunities and benefits — and people caught on to that very quickly."

The summit was generally positive but there was a sense of urgency.

"There is genuine economic development here," says Zapinski, "and we need to get organized around infrastructure, investment opportunities to take advantage of the opportunities. There is a window of opportunity here and we are going to take advantage of it or not."

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