If you are a regular reader of this column, you won’t be surprised to know I am a big supporter of shale gas development. Shale gas represents a major game-changer for our regional economy, and it represents a major game-changer for the United States in the global marketplace.

Simply put, it is the most exciting domestic energy development of my lifetime.

I have spent most of my life in Southwestern Pennsylvania. My paternal grandfather worked in a steel mill, my maternal grandfather for the railroad. I thought I would follow them, but my life took a different path. In my professional career, I have been blessed to work on projects in diverse cities such as Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Cleveland, Houston, New Orleans and Philadelphia. I have met many types of people.

But I have never seen a city, state or region that can touch the passion and perseverance of our people in Southwestern Pennsylvania. That passion is born from our hard work. For generations, we have done the work necessary to drive our country forward.

But today, we know there are gaps in our workforce. Our regional economy reflects these gaps. Shale gas development gives us the resources, tools and jobs to improve our lives and livelihoods.

Opportunities to attract business to our region are plentiful. Working with local, county and state governments, we can market our region to job-creating manufacturing companies that are looking to locate near abundant reserves of natural gas. But we must have sites available for development. We have sites with thousands of acres.

The availability of shovel-ready, permit-ready sites with a minimum of 20 acres of flat land is one of the most critical location requirements for business expansion and attraction.

Professionals advising manufacturing companies are aware of coal reclamation sites available in Fayette, Greene and Washington counties. We must work together to prepare our sites for development, then inventory and market them to targeted downstream industries that are ripe for business attraction, retention and expansion. The importance of these sites cannot be overstated.

The entire region must work together to promote these sites to companies and site selectors. Elected officials and economic development professionals working with our existing industry partners can create an economic system that will attract the family-sustaining jobs we need.

We have been like a thirsty person wandering in the desert. This is the water we need right now to refresh our spirit.

We also must market other key assets. From an economic development standpoint, the proximity of our sites to markets is critical. Manufacturing is about putting the product you create into the hands of consumers quickly and efficiently. Our industry-friendly transportation infrastructure such as roads, river and rail are experienced in moving goods and freight to market quickly and efficiently.

The muscle-memory that drives us will be instrumental for future development. Shale gas provides the feedstock manufacturers need. We also must market our most value asset: people. We must ensure that the ranks of our skilled workforce are prepared for the work ahead.

Site selectors look closely at the availability of skilled labor. Working with organized labor and our local trade and technical schools, we can equip our regional workforce with the tools necessary to sustain this opportunity for another seven decades.

Shale gas development will provide family-sustaining jobs we need. There will be early-action opportunities around the site-development process, including jobs in construction, but the long-term job creation will reinvigorate that generational work ethic.

Shale gas brings together economic and workforce development to enhance the future. We have the infrastructure in place for this effort to prepare our children and grandchildren for the workforce.

Perhaps one day soon, my grandson will love the Mon Valley as I do. He may pull up to the Allenport plant gate, as his great-grandfather did at Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel, and go to work in a high-tech advanced manufacturing facility that produces a product that is changing the world.

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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