Once company leadership has found the best Appalachian Basin real estate/incentive package that meets its needs to grow/expand, the next three words out of leadership’s mouth are:
“What about workforce?”
“If you can’t field a team – if you don’t have a reliable/accessible/available workforce – a company can’t grow or expand,” according to Patrick Ford, Business Development Director for the Frontier Group of Companies, a Buffalo, New York-based industrial specialty contractor.
Ford, who has been involved in city and regional economic development his entire career, will moderate the Workforce Panel at the Second Annual Appalachian Basin Conference.
The all-day program, built around the Basin’s growing petrochemical industry based on abundant, inexpensive natural gas, will be presented by Shale Directories, at the Oglebay Resort, in Wheeling, WV.
“Having an industry professional like Pat with the depth of workforce knowledge will make our conference very worthwhile for manufacturers and developers outside the region,” stated Joe Barone, President and Founder, Shale Directories.
An available and trainable workforce is crucial around the country but, according to Ford, the Tri-State region, including Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, offers companies a somewhat unique attribute: muscle memory – in spades.
Based not on no highbrow academic study, but rather from conversations with companies looking to set up or expand within the Basin, Ford believes muscle memory can mean the difference between securing or losing a company.
“I’ve been hearing about muscle memory from plants managers for a long time, and there seems to be a certain logic with it,” Ford said. “There’s something in the region’s workforce’s DNA.”
Certainly, the region’s “muscle memory” has to do with work ethic, which has been part of the Tri-State area’s DNA dating back to when coal mining, steel making and general manufacturing of numerous products were where grandfathers, fathers, and sons went right out of high school, made good money, and supported their families.
Employee loyalty and pride in workmanship sets apart the Basin workforce – they are willing to work hard and produce the best possible widget.
And if people want to work, there are few better places to be looking for a job than the Appalachian Basin.
“There are 100,000 available jobs right now in the Ohio River Corridor (which flows between the three states), 4,500 in manufacturing and oil & gas-related businesses,” according to Ford. “But there are 40,000 unemployed in the Valley.”
Ford believes there is a sufficient workforce in the Basin to handle the needs of petchem and O&G-related firms, but training men and women specifically for the positions available is crucial.
“Throughout the Basin, companies see the need for select training, plant managers and human resource people know to meet needs there must be collaboration between companies and educational institutions,” Ford said.
Vocation/technical schools are thriving because they quickly can adapt their curricula to meet employers’ needs. Two-year community colleges likewise are adapting curricula to meet petrochemical and oil & gas company training needs.
Community College of Beaver County (Pennsylvania) is a good example of this. Shell donated $1 million to create the Shell Center for Process Technology at the college.
Ford believes worker participation, getting men and women to buy into training and thus a job is very important. That could include given second, even third chances, to people with drugs in their backgrounds.
“Incentive packages, designed for those people willing to commute long distances, or even relocate for the job, must be considered,” Ford said.
Bottom line, according to Ford: “We won’t be able to market this region as a second petrochemical industry hub (behind the U.S. Gulf Coast) unless we have the workforce companies need – and that happens with accelerated training.”