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Cracker plant still on WV's agenda

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin told state business leaders Wednesday he was continuing to work to bring an ethane cracker plant to the state, saying he believes the state still has a good chance to attract one.

"We are working every day to make that happen, and I am convinced it will happen," Tomblin said.

Tomblin was the keynote speaker during the opening day of the state Chamber of Commerce's annual Business Summit, taking place Wednesday through Friday at The Greenbrier.

See more coverage of the Business Summit, including live updates

Tomblin said the development of the natural gas industry, including gas produced from the Marcellus and Utica shales, along with the processing of their associated liquids like ethane and propane, still has "enormous potential" for the state.

"I believe the abundance of these resources gives us not only a low-cost energy source, but it gives us an opportunity to re-invigorate manufacturing in our state," he said. "We are working hard to develop the infrastructure that will support an entire industry for generations to come."

Tomblin said the state has been a leader in enacting "reasonable and responsible" rules designed to spur growth in the industry, but he tempered that remark with a word of caution for the industry.

He said if the state is willing to partner with the industry to extract natural gas, the industry must be willing to partner with the state to develop jobs within West Virginia's borders.

"We are not content to simply allow the resources of this state to be piped somewhere else to create manufacturing jobs," Tomblin said.

Tomblin also said the state needs to do more to educate and prepare its workforce for these potential new jobs. He said the education reform proposal that passed through the Legislature earlier this year was a first step but also challenged state business leaders to get more involved in early childhood education.

He said many students begin choosing a career path in middle school, and he thinks more businesses should get involved in schools to interest kids in careers in a given field.

"I need more businesses reaching out and showing our middle school students that you can get a good job doing something you actually like," Tomblin said.

Later Wednesday, during a panel on the future of manufacturing in the state, West Virginia University President Jim Clements spoke about the need to close what academic leaders had called the "innovation deficit."

He said federal and state governments have consistently invested fewer dollars in schools, particularly in research and development. As a result, Clements said, the United States has lost its status as a world leader in educating its citizens.

"At one point, the United States led the world in high school graduation rates; now we rank 21st and continue to fall," he said. "In China, over the last 10 years, the number of engineering doctorates has tripled beyond 10,000 while U.S. has 8,000."

He said academic leaders across the country are warning that ignoring this innovation deficit would have serious long-term consequences, including a less prepared workforce, fewer technological breakthroughs and fewer jobs.

"There is a sense of urgency that we're trying to state," Clements said. "We're simply getting outpaced by China, South Korea, Taiwan and India."

Contact writer Jared Hunt at business@dailymail.com or 304-348-4836.


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