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With Most New Jobs Projected to Pay Below a Living Wage, It’s Time to Reassess Our Economic Future

Recent news of PTT Global Chemical’s indefinite final investment decision (FID) delay provides a unique opportunity for policymakers and economic development committees to step back and reassess the economic future of the Ohio River Valley. After more than six years and an investment of nearly $100 million of economic development funds, the proposed cracker plant site in Dilles Bottom still lies empty, reflecting some local politicians’ hollow promises of employment growth and economic prosperity. How much longer will residents of the Ohio River Valley have to wait for a more robust regional economy with enough well-paying jobs to go around?

Good jobs don't grow on trees. According to the Ohio River Valley Institute, unless federal, state-level, and local elected officials quickly take action, most new jobs in the Ohio River Valley will pay below a liveable wage. More than 7 in 10 annual job openings by 2028 are projected to pay less than what it takes to meet minimum standards of living for a family of three with one full-time working adult.

We can't count on Appalachia's proposed petrochemical build-out to rejuvenate our economy. Even if PTTG follows through with a final investment decision, economists have repeatedly warned that the ethane cracker’s economic prospects will be far less rosy than proponents have projected. According to the Institute for Economics and Energy Analysis, should the plant be constructed, it would face a number of economic hurdles, including “a high risk of weak prices, significant domestic and global competition, slowing global GDP, a financially unstable feedstock supply, downward credit pressure and an uncertain investment environment in the U.S.” Each of these factors alone could hinder the plant’s profitability; cumulatively, they suggest significant financial distress.

It’s time to blaze a new trail. Viable, well-paying alternatives to petrochemical jobs do exist, and many “green” jobs pay as well or close to what jobs pay in fossil fuel extraction. Tied for the fastest-growing occupation in Ohio is wind turbine service technician and operation, with a projected 50% increase in employment between 2018 and 2028. Notably, the median annual pay for wind turbine service technicians in Ohio is $57,866, more than $10,000 higher than that of derrick operators in the oil and gas industry.

Shared prosperity will be constructed through securing labor protections, improving job quality, and increasing local residents’ disposable incomes. The Economic Policy Institute has outlined a series of policies designed to increase fairness and equity in the workplace and ensure access to reliable, livable wages. For too long, Ohio Valley workers have been denied just compensation for their labor. We need change.

We must recognize PTTG’s indecision as an opportunity to pivot away from petrochemicals and toward investment in renewable energy infrastructure, sustainable agriculture, and eco-tourism. Together, we can forge a safer, more just, and more reliable future for the Ohio River Valley.

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