PARKERSBURG - Business and county officials on both sides of the Ohio River said a cracker plant in Wood County would be a major boost in struggling economic times.
Odebrecht, a Brazilian petrochemicals company, and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced Thursday afternoon an option to purchase the SABIC plant and land in Washington Bottom.
Officials cautioned there remains many hoops to jump through before the project comes to fruition.
Wood County Assessor Rich Shaffer said such a business would be a "real boon" for Wood County.
"There would be increases on real estate I'm sure, based on additional jobs in the area, people moving into the area to build this plant and operate the plant," he said.
In terms of tax revenue, Shaffer said he has no idea what the impact might be at this point.
"It's a multi-billion dollar plant, which would probably be exempt from taxation, at least for a period of time if an economic stimulus benefit is offered. It would probably be owned by the development authority, which would mean it would be tax-exempt. But we would see a benefit from the construction and operator jobs. There would be a big turnaround in employment rates. We will also see a large increase on values on property," Shaffer said.
Wood County Commissioner Blair Couch called the governor's announcement Thursday "a game changer."
"The number of people that will be employed is significant during the construction phase we've been told in the past, if we would be so lucky as to get it," Couch said. "We are really excited about this opportunity.
"After the press conference and governor's statements, this is certainly a long-range project and hasn't reached a point where earth will be turned, but I'm confident it will make progress, and the county commission stands ready, willing and able to make this project a reality," Couch said. "Anything we can do, our ultimate goal is to attract new business, integrate them into the community and make them feel at home."
County Commission President Wayne Dunn said the location of a cracker plant in Wood County would mean a "lot of positives," but could also present a "double-edged sword."
"We would gain a lot, there will be a lot of great spinoffs, and if the revenue is generated to make the community better, that would be a plus," Dunn said. "This presents an opportunity."
"I feel we would benefit greatly," County Commissioner Steve Gainer said of the potential for the plant.
Washington County Commission President David White said he had earlier heard of the potential for the land purchase for the proposed cracker plant.
"Of course we are excited about it. It means economic development for the whole Mid-Ohio Valley area. It's wonderful. We look forward to it. It's going to mean more jobs, a boost to the economy, more disposable income. The old cliche about a rising tide lifts all boats, holds true. We are very excited about it," White said.
The Chamber of Commerce of the Mid-Ohio Valley and Belpre Area Chamber of Commerce officials said the possible location of a cracker plant in the area would be a major economic shot in the arm.
"This is such a great opportunity for West Virginia, and especially the Mid-Ohio Valley. We were very excited to hear about this opportunity. I think this is a real game changer. Support for the business community, real estate market, restaurants, suppliers, the infrastructure, tax base, school system will all see benefits. Everyone will benefit," said Jill Parsons, president/CEO of the Mid-Ohio Valley Chamber.
The Belpre Area Chamber of Commerce representatives said businesses across the river will also feel the impact of the development.
"I feel that this development is certainly good news for any potential business retention and expansion possible in our area, particularly involving the west end of our business corridor," said Karen Waller, executive director for the Belpre Area Chamber of Commerce.
"With the Corridor D artery directly connecting the site to our business district, medical complex and shops and restaurants, we believe we are poised to profit from this enterprise. Of course, the Belpre Area Chamber of Commerce is ready to assist businesses wishing to locate or expand in our area, with networking opportunities, start-up services, informational sessions and one-to-one assistance to anyone interested in joining the Belpre Area business community or reaching out to potential customers. We certainly believe there is a bright future for business in the Belpre," Waller said.
The potential impact of an ethane cracker for increased development of the Marcellus Shale natural gas and for the downstream businesses is incalculably positive, said Chris Hamilton, chairman of the West Virginia Business and Industry Council.
"When you add the announcement earlier this week of the $20 million expansion of the Sogefi Group's Wayne County plant, this has been a banner week for West Virginia," Hamilton said.