Remember when we built America? Let’s do that again.

Back then, we had a deep connection to the Monongahela River, which built the Mon Valley, which helped build America. Our region has a 250-year-old story whose ending is not in sight.

Much of our story has been written with the dust of the coal we mined and forged in the furnaces of steel mills in which our grandparents and their parents wrote an American story. It is a story about family. That is what we were then, an American family.

We went to work together, lived together, celebrated each other and grieved together. Through it all, the region has been closely tied to our rivers. Even through our darkest times, the rivers have sustained us.

When moving freight to growing population centers required much more than railroads and highways could provide, the rivers were there. We helped build an industry, and the American middle class, but we look much different now. Where mills and factories once led the region’s commerce, and bustling, vibrant towns lined the river valleys, there are now idled factories, rusting buildings, vacant storefronts and blight.

We haven’t given up. We are continuing to write our story, picking up the pen from our ancestors, to write the story of a bright tomorrow for future generations. Just as coal and steel once provided generations of job opportunities, the family-sustaining jobs we are creating today, fueled by the abundant natural gas under our feet, will keep more of our most precious resource – our children – in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

These jobs are being reinforced by a world-class higher education system. Together, we are rebuilding American industry, and the American middle class. And guess what? Our rivers are still with us and playing a critical role.

Today the freight is not coal or steel, but resources from energy production. Energy is in our blood, sweat and tears. The cutting-edge processes employed by the advanced manufacturing companies, drawn here by the natural gas industry, define how American business gets done. We are building a strong manufacturing base, founded in technology.

We must bring manufacturing back to this country. Growth in the manufacturing sector is flat nationally. Productivity is increasing, but jobs aren’t, and that is how an industry grows. Let’s fix that in our region.

Revitalization of our communities and economy is tied to rivers. We have sites in abundance, but we need stronger infrastructure led by these waterways.

The Shell cracker plant in Beaver County is a great example. That site was chosen because of the Ohio River. That plant is helping to revitalize a region, like our steel mills of yesterday did in Allenport and Monessen. That facility is invaluable to Southwestern Pennsylvania. Take a ride up Interstate 376 and see it.

Rivers also are tied to our region’s health and wellness. As we rebuild and revitalize, we must protect our rivers. We are becoming a healthier population, and as a result, we are becoming a wealthier region because of the opportunities created by our rivers. We are building trails connected to our rivers. Our trails and recreational facilities are among the best in the commonwealth.

The future of the United States may depend on the energy independence we provide right here.

The Mon Valley is as American as baseball and apple pie, and we are writing a new American story. Because of the investment of our corporate partners, and commitment of our colleges and universities, our children could lead the way in science and technology. Our region could be cleaner and healthier than at any time.

Our story is still about family, and from Rices Landing to Pittsburgh, the Monongahela River remains a central character of our story.

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.

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