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‘Our job is to be the best friend of business’

Rotary hears from Appalachian group

May 25, 2013
By MARK J. MILLER , The Herald-Star

STEUBENVILLE -A business advocacy organization dedicated to growth in Ohio's Appalachian counties was discussed during the city Rotary Club's Friday's luncheon meeting at the YWCA.

John Molinaro, president and chief executive officer of the Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth, said economic advocacy organizations such as his were opening new avenues for business interest in Appalachia that hadn't been considered before. He said the organization's goal was to "make businesses grow and thrive here" and expand economic opportunities in the Appalachian counties of Ohio.

"Our job is to be the best friend of (businesses) and of the 25 counties in our region," said Molinaro. "It's quite a challenge. This region's never had an agency like ours. We're trying to make opportunities for growth across the entire region."

Article Photos

TALKING DEVELOPMENT — John Molinaro, president and chief executive officer of the Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth, discussed the agency’s working while speaking at Friday’s meeting of the Steubenville Rotary Club at the YWCA. -- Mark Miller

Molinaro said the Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth was a nonprofit, private organization "led by those that understand the needs of business." It's one of six such groups covering regions in Ohio and a subsidiary of Ohio Appalachian Business Council. APEG's offices are in Nelsonville in Athens County.

Molinaro said the organization also assists local manufacturing through a federal program that "Has knowledge right down to the factory floor." He added the agency also had the resources and know-how to help local companies compete and overcome barriers.

Molinaro said while some might take the view the much-anticipated shale boom wasn't developing as fast as some expected, it all has to do with the infrastructure needed by companies involved in shale drilling.

"We are at a plateau right now, which we will break through," he said, adding pipelines and other needs are enormous investments shale-drilling companies haven't yet made locally.

He said it could take from 18 months to another two years before shale-drilling productivity rises locally.

"It's exactly where we predicted it would be right now," he said. "When they go full scale you'll see them hiring aggressively locally. I have no doubt we will see tremendous growth."

He also alluded to rumors that indicate the ethane cracker plant the Shell Oil Co. originally planned to build in Monaca, Pa., could possibly end up being constructed in West Virginia instead. Shell announced its plans to build the plant in March 2012 after a several-month's long bidding battle among Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The proposed plant would process natural gas compounds into polymers and other materials.

"That would be huge," he said.

He added that even if development happened in West Virginia or Pennsylvania, the economic impact would be felt in Ohio as well.

Molinaro also said businesses are attracted of the Ohio River being used for transportation of goods as water travel for goods from China becomes more expensive, "Particularly for those items that aren't time-sensitive. The river is now the way to go."

He said one problem facing the area is that it does not have enough available local real estate inventoried and posted online, but added that Jefferson County was ahead of the curve compared to some other Ohio Appalachian counties. He said that "being in the database is a tremendous advantage."

More attention is being paid to this region also in the chemical, polymer and wet gas industries, and more of those companies were showing interest in locating to the area, said Molinaro.

"We're trying to encourage these companies to locate to our sites," he said, adding the area has the work force, the river and rail service.

Molinaro also said the agency is looking forward to working with the emerging Jefferson County Port Authority and joining resources. The tax base also is a challenge, as the region doesn't have a large city within its 25-county region, resulting in a lower tax base to draw expansion funds from, said Molinaro. He added governments and business advocacy organizations in the region would have to work together to move forward.

"We'll have to do it together," he said.

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