Corridors of Opportunity: Washington County energy goes beyond natural gas

Tim Schooley
Pittsburgh Business Times

“Washington County’s economy is very diverse,” said Jeff Kotula, president of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce. “We pride ourselves on that.”

Kotula was joined in a discussion about Washington County’s fortunes by Jim Winter, a senior director for Hanna Langholz Wilson Ellis, who is representing the 1,200-acre Zediker Station in South Strabane, and Mike Huwar, president of Columbia Gas, which maintains an active presence in Washington County.

While Washington County has experienced a slow down and consolidation of the oil and gas firms that so quickly expanded there five years ago, Winter sees things changing.

“In the last several years, it’s been somewhat downhill in this particular area,” he said of the Washington County economy. “But I think we’re going to see an upswing.”

WInter said he’s experienced increased inquiries about the Zediker Station site since September, demonstrating a lot more interest.

Yet the prolonged slump in natural gas prices that has hindered the growth and expansion of natural gas companies in Washington County has been a benefit to consumers, explained Huwar, whose company has been engaged in a 10-year modernization plan for its network of pipelines.

He noted how the lower gas prices have made the costs of the infrastructure upgrades less of an impact for them.

Kotula noted the established strengths of metals, particularly titanium, and plastics in Washington County, led by such company as Allegheny Technologies Inc. and Washington Penn Plastic. Other major companies in Washington County include the tech firm Ansys, Mylan, and Crown Castle International.

He noted how energy firms continue to grow in the region, citing the recent announcement by Houston-based Nine Energy in the Alta Vista Business Park in Fallowfield Township as an example.

It’s a business environment in which Winter expects to generate plenty of attention for Washington County and the entire region by marketing Zediker Station, a legacy property of CNX Resources Corp. that ranks as the second largest in the state.

Winter expects the site to attract a mix of light manufacturing, in part due to the region’s cheap and plentiful supply of natural gas as well as its vicinity to the new Shell cracker plant in Potter Township, Beaver County. He also sees potential for office development and distribution on the site, which is close to the junction of Interstates 70 and 79 and also close to two rail lines.

Acknowledging how the boom-and-bust nature of the oil and gas business had an impact on Washington County, Kotula noted the county’s population continues to grow in a region where that’s typically not the case.

He said Washington County is expected to grow its population into a different classification of county under state municipal code in the next five or ten years.

How has it grown?

He argued for a simple recipe of lower taxes, strong business development and high quality of life.

“I think Washington County growth comes down to economic basics,” he said.