What if we were no longer afraid? What if the ogre in the dark turned out to be a friend in the light? What if we were no longer afraid of a word?

What if we researched the science and technology behind the word fracking, and it turns out to be no scarier than butter? Fracking isn’t scary. It is a completion method, which means it occurs after a well is constructed and the well integrity is confirmed.

The natural gas industry brings with it the opportunity for regional economic growth and a global competitive advantage. Make no mistake, we are in a global competition for the manufacturing operations that want to be close to this critical feedstock, the family-sustaining jobs and generational prosperity they bring with them.

When we stop tripping over fear, the path to the thrill of success becomes clear. In Greene and Washington counties, that path is paved with infrastructure, economic and social development, leadership, access to education and job creation. The natural gas industry is doing the paving.

We are a region in desperate need of family-sustaining jobs and generational prosperity. The industry is doing its part, but the reality is we cannot wait for data to tell us what we should do. We must begin implementing our own solutions.

Our region’s greatest asset is people, specifically students. We have always instilled our collective pride and power through commitment to community, and shared values passed down through the generations. Now we must take this a step farther, a step closer to our fear, so people can prosper.

It’s up to us to develop job-readiness training, one-on-one job coaching, paid work experience, industry-recognized skills training, job placement and retention services. Greene County is developing high school pre-apprenticeship programs, and a trade-specific approach linking the building trades with businesses and educators to provide targeted job training and holistic support to these new employees.

According to a UCLA study, we humans have about 50,000 thoughts per day and 80% of them are negative. This negativity is fueled by weak leadership driven by self-interests. The greatest opportunity of my generation, the generation that paid the highest price for the demise of big steel in this region, is laid out in front of us in the form of shale gas development.

We must learn what the rest of the world seems to already know: we are in a global energy crisis, and Southwestern Pennsylvania holds the solution in the palm of its hand. The face of the global energy market is sitting in middle schools in West Greene, McGuffey, Waynesburg, Charleroi, Carmichaels, Canon-Mac … and elsewhere.

This opportunity is that big, my friends. Imagine what we can achieve by simply putting aside egos and collaborating. We have bright minds and state-of-the-art technology at our disposal, and must brush aside fear take one more step toward the light. That is where prosperity is waiting.

Jamie Protin is founder and principal of The Protin Group in Belle Vernon.

To submit business-related columns, email Rick Shrum at rshrum@observer-reporter.com.

Business Writer

Rick Shrum joined the Observer-Reporter as a reporter in 2012, after serving as a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rick has won eight individual writing awards, including two Golden Quills.

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