Pittsburgh — Despite animus involving each other's professional football teams, folks in Cleveland and Pittsburgh have more alike than they would probably want to admit.
And that's certainly true when it comes to the future of the plastics industry in the region thanks to the shale gas boom that includes portions of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
As vice president of business attraction for Team NEO, an economic development group based in Northeast Ohio, part of Paul Boulier's job is to understand and then promote the economic growth potential surrounding all of that cheaper natural gas coming from hydraulic fracturing.
Billions have been spend in recent years on fracking infrastructure to extract and transport natural gas from the region, Boulier said at the recent Annual Blow Molding Conference in Pittsburgh.
Now the area is in a years-long process of developing local business opportunities to take advantage of all of this lower-cost gas that's now heading out of the region to a large degree.
Several companies are considering spending billions of dollars on local projects to transform ethane from natural gas into ethylene — through a process called cracking — which then can be made into resin.
It's a business opportunity so large that these companies are spending millions of dollars just to decide whether or not they want to pursue crackers in the region.
Boulier told the crowd that there will be plenty of ethane to go around, and he sees a future where multiple such facilities could be located in the tri-state region.
“I'm very enthused and optimistic about how things are going forward. The ebb and flow of the global market is ultimately how many and how fast? These are big, expensive, complicated projects. But that the end of the day, they are going to be huge in terms of growing opportunity for you all and your businesses,” he said.
Processors, such as the blow molders gathered in Pittsburgh, will be able to share in the business opportunity by considering locating in the area, he said.
“This is a regional opportunity,” he told the crowd. “You have a role in this in helping realize this opportunity. ... Blow molding is certainly going to benefit from it in the long-term.”
The shale gas business in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia is undergoing an evolution and at this point is moving away from what he called “a land play” where developers acquired drilling rights and sorted out where they were going to locate operations.
“That land rush is pretty much done. There's a little trading going back and forth right now, but that's pretty much done,” he said.
Now it's time to develop what he calls “the value chain.”
“When I talk about the downstream, you are the downstream in this value chain. And I think a lot of the innovation and growth that you are going to provide and benefit from as this continues to mature, I think you want to be positioned for that,” he said.
The annual conference is sponsored by the Blow Molding division of the Society of Plastic Engineers.