STEUBENVILLE - From cleaning companies to tech services, the local business community is hoping to cash in on the shale boom.
"There are so many opportunities that are heading our way here in Eastern and Southeastern Ohio with Marcellus and Utica shale," said U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta. "As business begins to come into the area, there are going to be requirements for information technology infrastructure to support that, beta centers, applications, web development, those kinds of things, and what these folks do here is a vital part of that infrastructure process."
Johnson said experts are predicting "thousands and thousands of new jobs over the next three or four years" will be coming to Steubenville alone.
"I think if you look at the companies coming here, they're going to have needs," said Ed Looman, executive director of Progress Alliance. "They're going to need tires for their huge trucks, they're going to need to have things fixed. The companies are going to need industrial supplies, they're going to need uniforms and laundry services and catering services. It's just a huge opportunity for local business to experience growth and benefit from this. And as we move forward, there are going to be opportunities for startups there are voids out there that we don't have, services they need that we don't have."
Looking to plug one of those voids is the Ridgefield Group, a Steubenville-based, full-service technology company. Founded in 1997, the company's senior staff sat down with Johnson on Tuesday to discuss information technology infrastructure development opportunities and the role they can play going forward.
"There are going to be requirements for information technologies infrastructure to support that (job growth)," Johnson said. "Beta centers, applications, web development, those kinds of things. What the Ridgefield folks do here is a vital part of that infrastructure process, so we're talking to them about how they can expend their horizons and how we can create like a technology consortium here in Eastern Ohio otherwise, you'd have to go to places like Pittsburgh or Columbus or Cincinatti, or maybe even Cleveland, to get to one. It's just a good opportunity."
Johnson, whose background is in information technologies, said as shale-driven opportunities manifest themselves, "there's going to be a need for information technology" that an established company like Ridgefield can capitalize on.
"Information technologies is one of the infrastructure needs that's going to be heavily required," he said.
Johnson said the session grew out of an awareness on Ridgefield's part of "what are their concerns from a small business perspective, what kinds of barriers do they see."
"Right now, you've got to go to (a bigger city) to be a member of a technology consortium," he said. "(We) talked about how they could start that kind of thing here."
And that, said Looman, is exactly what they want the local business community to do: Look at the oil and gas industry's needs and figure out how to fill them.
"I think the majority of our local businesses are trying to find ways to capitalize," Looman said. "There's a buzz, people want to know when it's coming, how soon will it be here. I think those questions will be answered as we move through 2012."
(Harris can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)