My father always stressed the importance of educating yourself. No surprise, as he was a public-school teacher.

What may be a little surprising is that by educating yourself, he was referring to preparing to the best of your ability, for whatever path you choose.

We are on the cusp of one of the most exciting times in our region’s history. The opportunities coming here in the next 10 years will sustain us for a generation. From engineers to craftsmen, scientists to laborers, opportunity is knocking. But we must be prepared.

Billions of dollars in investment are advancing on our region and bringing thousands of jobs. We’ll have a chance to assist area residents in preparing for jobs and opportunities in their back yard. Our students no longer will have a reason to move away.

For the first time in several decades, family-sustaining jobs are being based right here. Steel and coal provided those jobs for our fathers and grandfathers. Now natural gas is providing them for our sons and daughters. Let’s prepare them as best we can.

Energy is leading the way. We have already seen an increase in family-sustaining jobs, and as a result, the direct and indirect economic impacts realized by our communities have exceeded expectations. The Appalachian Storage Hub, for storage of natural gas, is a critical component in the revitalization of manufacturing operations in the region.

What if we used more of this resource than simply export it? Natural gas liquids such as ethane, propane, and butane are a big part of our daily lives. When was the last time you didn’t use something made of plastic? With an increased manufacturing base comes not only jobs, but more homeowners, car buyers, grocery shoppers and diners. Small businesses will grow as activity increases in our downtowns.

The energy industry started in Pennsylvania when the first oil well was drilled in Titusville in 1859. We need to keep the energy flowing through the veins of our next generation. Job creation in the energy sector in Greene and Washington counties continues to grow rapidly in the upstream, midstream and downstream sectors of shale gas development. That bodes well for our students, whether they are heading to college or entering the workforce.

We remain a major bituminous coal-producing region. It seems that every day a new technology is being launched. Safety and environmental standards are higher than ever, enacted to protect the health of our citizens and planet. Renewables such as wind and solar will depend on our world-class colleges and universities, trade and technical schools, and apprenticeships offered within the building and construction trades. Revenues from the natural gas industry support our local schools, as well as much-needed public infrastructure projects.

Opportunities in the energy sector are beyond anything ever imagined. You want to cut carbon emissions? Let’s start by cutting exports of our natural gas. By using it here, we will help reduce carbon emissions. Because of natural gas, the United States has become the world leader in emissions reductions. And, by keeping these energy resources at home, we add yet another layer of economic opportunities for the region

Let’s take a common-sense approach to developing a secure economic future for our region, and our nation.

The education, training and apprenticeship initiatives remain a cornerstone of the development of shale gas in the region. Job creation is of little benefit if we do not have qualified people to fill those jobs. With advances in technology and the work demands, these are not your ordinary jobs. But then again, we are not ordinary people.

An Appalachian Storage Hub is much more than a game-changer for the tri-state. An opportunity to have billions of dollars invested and thousands of jobs created does not happen often.

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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