Washington County continued to benefit from the gas industry in 2019, leaders recently told an audience of business and industry representatives during the annual State of the Economy event held by the Washington County Chamber of Commerce at Southpointe.
Commission Chairman Diana Irey Vaughan noted that Pennsylvania is the second-largest gas-producing state and that Washington County is second in the state in gas production.
While Washington County officials held an event to provide an update on its economy, the Shale Gas Knowledge Hub also plans to explore the economies of other Western Pennsylvania counties during the coming weeks to determine the effect of the gas industry and the other factors coming into play in the region. Watch for more articles in the series.
Washington County saw impact fees paid to local communities rise by 15 percent last year, she said, reaching $8.4 million in 2018. While energy is an important industry in the county, it’s not the only one, as construction, manufacturing, infrastructure, and tourism also play important roles. In 2019, the county saw $513 million in business investment and 930 new jobs created.
Commissioner Larry Maggi noted that there has been a slowdown in gas drilling due to the low price of natural gas that is squeezing companies. “Yes there are going to be ups and downs but it’s always going to be here,” he said.
The December unemployment rate in the county was 5.2 percent, slightly above the statewide average of 4.5 percent, according to the state Department of Labor and Industry. Washington County, with more than 207,000 residents, has seen its population hold steady while some other Western Pennsylvania counties have seen declines.
Maggi noted that the gas industry also attracts “ancillary businesses” that provide services to the gas drilling companies. The county has focused and will continue to focus on making sure that it has industrial sites ready for those businesses that are looking to locate in this area.
One of those new companies is TechnipFMC, which plans to consolidate two facilities into a building at the Speers Industrial Park. The company, which services and tests equipment for the gas industry, plans to invest $13.3 million and create 168 jobs.
Maggi also talked about the impact that the Shell ethane cracker plant under construction in nearby Beaver County will have on Washington County, calling it a “game-changer” due to its location less than 20 miles away and the easy access by highway.
The county has focused on ensuring that it has sites ready to build on for manufacturing and industrial activity that is expected to be created by the ready supply of ethylene, a building block for plastics. It is developing land at Starpointe Industrial Park in northern Washington County and plans to update its comprehensive plan to identify potential economic development opportunities and determine what workforce and infrastructure investments are needed.
Officials noted that Southpointe 2, the latest phase in the county’s large, mixed-use park off Interstate 79 near Canonsburg, is almost built out. Many of the tenants are gas-related businesses.
Washington County has become the Western Pennsylvania hub of the shale gas industry, and its uncertain future, given low prices and oversupply, is likely to also affect the county business climate.