It was a very good year for Washington County's economy

Rick Shrum
Observer Reporter

On a miserable, rain-soaked morning, the county commissioners provided rays of much-needed sunshine.

“Washington County continues to lead the Greater Pittsburgh Region in creating new economic growth, new job opportunities and countywide expansion,” commissioners Chairman Larry Maggi said Tuesday morning, in opening the county Chamber of Commerce’s sixth annual State of the Economy presentation.

He and colleague Harlan Shober spoke live, Commissioner Diana Irey Vaughan by video, to a crowd of 392 – most of them business leaders – at the Hilton Garden Inn at Southpointe. The commissioners agreed 2017 was a very good year, economy-wise, in Washington County, with natural gas drilling on a healthy rebound, industrial and commercial development going strong and communities still receiving boosts from the Local Share Account, courtesy of slots revenue generated at The Meadows Casino.

A baseball stats geek would have been impressed by the 2017 numbers touted Tuesday. Among them: 90 economic development projects for more than $727.6 million in capital investment in the county; $6.7 million in LSA investments, accompanied by $29 million in public and private funds; and 1,438 jobs created and retained.

There’s more, courtesy of Marcellus Shale. Washington, once more, was No. 1 in unconventional well permits among Pennsylvania’s 67 counties with 515 – more than one-fourth of the state total. The local county also had the most wells drilled – 209 – an impressive 23 percent of the Pennsylvania figure.

“Our opportunities continue to grow,” Maggi said.

Shober said the county “has seen significant investments in infrastructure that will secure our long-term growth position. The largest is the five-mile stretch of Interstate 70 between the Beau Street and Eighty Four exits.”

Irey Vaughan added “Washington County continues to invest in infrastructure, business parks and communities through the LSA.”

Jeff Kotula, president of the county’s chamber and Tourism Promotion Agency, asked the two commissioners sharing the podium with him to assess what might happen if Amazon selects the Pittsburgh area for its second headquarters, which is expected to create 50,000 jobs.

“If Amazon locates in Washington County or elsewhere in the Pittsburgh area,” Shober said, “50,000 jobs impacts all of Western Pennsylvania. And it would affect us in a positive way. Kids would stay here instead of going elsewhere for a job.”

Speaking afterward with several members of the media, Maggi again endorsed the benefits of natural gas that, literally, is underfoot in Washington County.

“That energy source is here, and we have the ability to drill it,” he said. “The industry will have its ups and downs, but (the natural gas) will always be here. It probably will be here 100 years from now.”

Craig Davis, president and CEO of Visit Pittsburgh, spoke interestingly about tourism, saying his organization has worked closely with Washington County. He said visitors to Allegheny County spend nearly $6 billion a year.

Maggi appreciates the importance of tourism to Washington County. “We have some great treasures here, and a good quality of life here,” he said.

The program closed with a rousing panel discussion about energy, featuring Tony Gaudlip of Range Resources, an upstream company; Mike Huwar of Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania (downstream); and Jim Crews of MarkWest (midstream). Paul Gough, a reporter with Pittsburgh Business Times and a Washington County resident, was the moderator.

With Shell building a cracker plant in Beaver County, natural gas liquids – wet gas – was a focal point. Crews, whose company will play an integral role in supplying the cracker, said: “The opportunities are enormous. America is Saudi Arabia for NGLs. The opportunity is enormous to resurrect the chemical industry.”

It was another sunny pronouncement on a dreary weather day.