The still-vacant site of the proposed PTTG ethane cracker plant. Photo by Ted Auch, FracTracker Alliance.
Earlier this year, the Belomar Regional Council, an economic planning and development council composed of governments in Belmont County, Ohio, and Ohio, Marshall, and Wetzel Counties in West Virginia, identified just one source of economic opportunity for the Ohio River Valley region: the proposed PTTG ethane cracker plant.
It’s a bleak assessment for an economy that’s waited more than six years for the cracker plant’s construction. Since 2015, the harrowed PTTG facility has missed six final investment decision (FID) deadlines and lost two major financial backers to economic uncertainty. Even JobsOhio’s $70,000,000 investment has failed to produce any material returns. After PTTG’s recent announcement of yet another revised timeline, it seems we’ve seen every indication that the Dilles Bottom plant is a non-starter.
One thing is clear: if the Belomar Regional Council is serious about developing a robust, sustainable economy, placing all our eggs in one petrochemical basket isn’t going to cut it. For too long, local and regional policymakers have corralled our public resources into fossil fuel bait, leaving our communities waiting for an oil and gas boom that may never happen.
It’s time to reframe the way our region thinks about economic opportunity. A promising new study highlighted by the Ohio River Valley Institute suggests policymakers “pursue policies tailored to their community” rather than seek opportunity through ineffective, sector-based policies targeting outside corporations like PTTG.
According to the Ohio River Valley Institute (ORVI), not only is such an approach feasible, it would likely be economically effective, too. Preliminary results have found that community-based policies see greater economic returns than sector-based policies. Small towns with plenty of quality of life (QOL) amenities -- things important for healthy, vital communities, like entertainment and recreational opportunities, healthcare, restaurant and retail options, and clean air and water -- tend to have larger populations and more job growth than small towns distinguished by the quality of business environment (QOBE) they provide. Investing in economic mobility by spending public funds on schools, roads, and high-speed internet access also contributes to overall prosperity.
Importantly, ORVI Senior Researcher Sean O’Leary notes that quality of life amenities are “highly actionable” for local and regional governments. “These are important considerations for community leaders in places like Belomar, as their now four-year wait to learn the fate of the cracker plant drags on,” he writes.