How has the construction of the Shell cracker plant impacted your local economy, and your economic outlook?
Beaver County Chamber: As the Shell plant is under construction, our local economy has benefited from having up to 8,000 construction workers working on site, and then of course all of that spin off business this generates (think need for housing, food, etc.) While Beaver County has benefitted, so have neighboring counties within an hour or two of the construction site, as this is where much of the local sourcing has come from. In the job categories that serve the needs of the plants (think construction, manufacturing and supply chain), employers have repeatedly mentioned the high demand and relatively low availability of local workers. As such, we see a great many out-of-state license plates in our region. As we begin to transition from the construction phase of the plant to its operation, we’ll see a permanent workforce of approximately 600 jobs, and jobs in spin off industries that will service the needs of the plant. In addition, an Amazon distribution center on the border of Allegheny and Beaver Counties is growing in size. Work will also commence on the Montgomery Dam and other local dams, repairing critical infrastructure and providing another infusion of jobs and money into our local economy. These are exciting times for our area!
Pittsburgh Area Airport Chamber of Commerce: The plant is expected to begin operations next year and with our chamber offices only 15 miles away, the overall impact is being felt on multiple levels. Hotels, restaurants and multiple service providers from retail to automotive are all impacted by the sheer number of workers at the largest construction site in North America. Once operational, the future will hold a completely different economic outlook as the chemical, energy, plastics, commerce and all supply chain components of the ethane cracking process will provide for our community and region. The airport area — our Chamber footprint — is expected to be significantly impacted across the board; and for our Chamber, we are poised to embrace this new economic development catalyst.
Washington County Chamber of Commerce: The plant’s construction has been a further evolution of our natural gas economy. Our region is not only producing this resource, but is now able to convert our natural gas to new, usable products. I believe that our region will not only continue to be a leader in natural gas production, but also in the products that are derived from it.
What is your organization’s greatest economic achievement?
Beaver County Chamber: Our greatest economic achievement is all about our member businesses, job stability and growth. Our Chamber exists so that it can actively contribute to the county being a great place to live, work and do business. Our members value that we’re able to support them and provide networking opportunities and resources to them, even (and especially) under the trying circumstances of the pandemic. We’re pleased to be here as a service organization when our members and community at large need us most — including being a trusted point of contact; leading a local business marketing campaign, “Rooted Locally,”; collaborating to get displaced workers trained; offering virtual events to allow for continuation of networking; and partnering with local companies in charitable giving efforts.
PAACC: Our greatest economic achievement since March 12th, 2020 has been stability. We had to adjust significantly to a complete shut down for months, as well as a depletion of all event revenue during our busiest months. We were nimble enough to reach out to our funders and assure them that we are here to help, as many businesses couldn’t. We cut expenses, managed our staff and their time, negotiated with our vendors and were still able to build up a significant reserve for the future.
Washington County Chamber of Commerce: We’d suggest that our greatest economic achievement is found in the public-private partnership we developed with the Washington County Commissioners over the past two decades. The cooperation between the business community and county government has allowed us to work together and leverage opportunities such as the Marcellus Shale play, the increase of advanced manufacturing, tourism and other means to diversify our economy.
How has your region navigated the COVID-19 pandemic, and what are some lessons learned from this unprecedented year?
Beaver County Chamber: Our region appears to have done relatively well under the circumstances. We were fortunate to have Shell continue to, very carefully and thoughtfully, continue its construction project, albeit modified as dictated by the pandemic. The Shell team has also been community-focused through its corporate giving and charity work, both as a company and through individual employees.
It has been discouraging and disappointing to see a number of small businesses close as they could not weather the pandemic storm. The businesses that were able to pivot and adapt learned that having some sort of buffer (be it financial, technological or in other resources) is critical to business survival. We also learned that vulnerable populations (be it the elderly, frail, minorities and otherwise disadvantaged) really need our help, and need us to fix systemic issues that have long been ailing our society. A good example are minority-held businesses — the pandemic has led us to ask what we can do to provide a boost, support and visibility to those underrepresented segments of our population that allows them to thrive in a way that makes all of us stronger, fully engaged and more productive as a society.
PAACC: Our region was stunned by the pandemic. And while some mid-to-large sized businesses actually had their best years ever — including those in the engineering, construction, finance and health care industries — many small businesses, including bars, restaurants and newer businesses — were all hit hardest. We made the decision not to drop one member if they couldn’t afford their dues and kept them on as active members, offering them assistance with the hope that once things get better, they’ll be able to return to their regular dues payments and we can continue our work with them to serve our community as we’ve done for decades.
Washington County Chamber of Commerce: There is no question that the pandemic has tested our entire economy, especially our small businesses. However, these challenges have also forced each business in Washington County, including ours, to examine its business structure and core priorities — an exercise that in the long run will lead to greater efficiencies, innovations and new ways to serve customers.
What are your plans for the future?
Beaver County Chamber: To be there for our businesses and community in a way that helps Beaver County be the best place it can be to work, live and do business. We remain eager to listen and learn about evolving needs, and continue to work collaboratively with the many persons and entities who are interested in moving Beaver County forward productively.
PAACC: Right now, we are very optimistic about the future — and not because of the end of the pandemic. We are optimistic due to planned development growth, the infrastructure funding for significant projects and because we have thousands of jobs open for those who want to live, work and connect here in the airport area. The Southern Beltway will be connected in October, the airport’s Terminal Modernization Project is back on track, the Shell cracker plant is just about one year away from completion and our local municipalities have reported over 3,000 new residential homes and town homes being built and approved for construction.
Washington County Chamber of Commerce: As the second largest chamber in the Greater Pittsburgh region, it is incumbent on us to continue to provide our members with value, and our economy with new opportunities. While we continue to implement traditional chamber programming such as networking events and trainings, we have also positioned ourselves for a larger role of driving economic development to expand existing businesses, attract new businesses and create job opportunities for our residents.
What can tourists to your area see and experience?
Beaver County Chamber: I’ll start by saying that the tourism and hospitality sectors were hard hit by the pandemic, and we look forward to being able to welcome back visitors to our region and showcase all Beaver County has to offer. We’re a countryside location surrounded amid rolling hills, hardwood forests, river valleys and streams. Our collection of parks and outdoor activities can satisfy any outdoor enthusiast. We are blessed with a number of historical and heritage points that will pique your interest. In addition to attending any one of the dozens of cultural events and ethnic festivals normally held throughout the year, you can take a nostalgic trip through the history of air travel, specifically relating to WWII at the Air Heritage Museum or step back in time to Old Economy Village. Feel the speed, beauty and excitement of polo matches held during the summer in Darlington, or a vintage car race at Pittsburgh International Race Complex in Wampum. Marvel at the refined beauty of a replica of a wooden Greek Catholic Church of Central Europe at the GCU headquarters. Savor award-winning restaurants and our regional cuisine. Relax at one of our charming Bed & Breakfasts or national hotel brands. Sit back and enjoy world-class and local entertainment at the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center. We have unlimited opportunities for antiquing, golfing, boating, museums, historical sites, concerts and more!
PAACC: We are blessed with the outdoor scenery of lakes, rivers, parks and forests for all outdoors lovers to enjoy. Our location — which is just minutes from downtown Pittsburgh — offers tourists three professional sports teams, a cultural and culinary offering that is second to none, and, of course, a world class airport that can bring in and out tourists quicker and more efficiently than most others.
Washington County Chamber: When the chamber and Washington County’s tourism agency merged nearly a decade ago, the intent was to increase the promotion of both our economic and tourism assets while leveraging the efficiencies of both organizations. Those efforts have paid off, as Washington County is now ranked second in visitor spending and other indicators in our region (behind Allegheny County). Visitors can expect a vibrant and diverse offering of historical, entertainment and recreational venues such as Meadowcroft Rockshelter & Historic Village, The Meadows Racetrack Casino Hotel, and both the Montour and Panhandle trails.