New dawn for West Virginia - Reasons to hope and believe

Just over six years ago, my wife, Lynnda, had a very serious car accident, rolling her car several times. The seat belt she wore and the airbags saved her life, but she still had a serious head laceration and a broken neck. A trauma team of five doctors came in to examine her at CAMC. Their faces were stern. No one was smiling.

As they were leaving, Lynnda whispered, “Doc.” The head trauma surgeon stopped and came back to Lynnda. He had to put his ear over her mouth so he could hear her whisper, “We have a trip to Disney World with the grandkids planned for the middle of next month. Is there any reason I can’t go?” This stern doctor suddenly broke into laughter. He responded, “It might be a little uncomfortable if you are driving.” I said, “I have plane tickets.” “Then no problem,” was his answer.

Her doctor for the next five days was a former high school soccer player of mine and a senior on the first team I taught leadership to back in 1999. Their dream was to play for the first state soccer championship in school history. They succeeded. This young doctor helped Lynnda get out of the hospital. One month later, we took Lynnda’s picture in front of the Haunted Mansion at Walt Disney World with our oldest granddaughter. That is the power of a dream.

In West Virginia, we have become conditioned to failure and being ranked at the bottom. However, a recent study by GOBankingRates has rated West Virginia first in the country in economic growth, citing gross domestic product growth, a decline in the unemployment rate and a moderate increase in personal income as the key factors in its report listing the “Five Strongest State Economies in 2017.”

Shale Crescent USA, a non- profit, non- governmental organization of community leaders, is seeing similar results. Their mission is to encourage business growth in the Ohio Valley, using this region’s economical and abundant natural gas and natural gas liquids (NGLs). They have branded the entire region as Shale Crescent USA to help us compete with the Gulf Coast. Shale Crescent’s role is marketing this Region to the World.

All of the increase in the U.S. gas supply is coming from West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania (the Shale Crescent USA) which is now producing almost 1/3 of our nation’s natural gas. In 2010, this was just 3 percent. The Shale Crescent is also a leading producer of NGLs, the feedstock for petrochemicals. We need petrochemicals to produce plastics for the products we use every day, including our cars, phones, computers, medicines and medical equipment.

The growth has started. Construction is underway on a methanol plant in South Charleston. Hino at Williamstown has announced an expansion and a move into the vacant Coldwater Creek facility that will start in 2018. Solvay has announced an expansion that will double the size of its Willow Island facility near Parkersburg. Other companies are quietly adding employees. A plant manager recently told me they are adding 20 jobs with a starting salary of $80,000 plus. These are career-oriented jobs with benefits. Most of my leadership class students at Pierpont Community & Technical College already have high-wage job offers. They will have families and spend this money in West Virginia. I see a positive attitude and an excitement from State Leadership in Charleston and with the economic development people I interact with who I haven’t seen in years.

We have more than energy. We have abundant water resources. We are within a day’s drive of half of the markets in the U.S. and Canada. We have an experienced workforce. Did you know that the first cracker plant and the petrochemical industry started at Clendenin in the 1920s because of our abundant natural gas at the time? The world has changed again because of the abundance of the U.S. shale reserves, especially the Marcellus and Utica.

We can use these advantages to market this region to the world. The dream of Shale Crescent USA (the organization) is to bring high wage jobs and economic growth back to this region. They are working with a foreign company to bring a manufacturing facility here. They first met in October at the Global Plastics Summit in Chicago. Shale Crescent will also be speaking by invitation to the Japanese Petrochemical Manufacturers Association in Tokyo.

My wife, Lynnda, had the courage to dream high after her accident. Are we willing to let go of the past and believe in a better tomorrow? A tomorrow that will create a better future here for our children and grandchildren. It won’t be easy. There will always be naysayers. We don’t have to believe them. Everyone can play a part. We need to break old traditional barriers and work together. Help make 2018 great.

This op-ed was authored by Greg Kozera, director of marketing for Shale Crescent USA, for The State Journal. Click here to read it on the publication's website.