Race to attract the cracker plant

Plans by a Brazilian firm to build an ethane cracker plant in Wood County are advanced but not finalized. Less certain still is that if the facility is built, West Virginia will benefit from related growth in the form of factories using the cracker’s output.

Neither state officials nor those in and around Wood County need to be told they will have to work hard – and quickly – to maximize the potential boost to the local and state economies.

A detailed reminder has been provided, however, in the form of a study by a respected economist. It makes clear there is little time to waste.

As we reported Sunday, Tom Witt of Witt Economics LLC in Morgantown already has briefed state legislators on the study. According to the scenario he profiled, nearly 2,100 new long-term jobs could be created by the cracker plant. That includes positions at the plant itself, at three plastics factories using its output, and elsewhere in employment related indirectly to the facility.

For all that to happen, both the potential cracker developer, Odebrecht, and other companies will want assurances the Wood County region provides the infrastructure they require. According to Witt, that includes gas pipelines, railroads and highways.

In addition, the companies will want a favorable tax climate, a capable workforce and quality of life attractive to employees.

Clearly, local and state officials can go only so far in economic incentives. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and state legislators should attempt to please Odebrecht and other developers – but with both the state’s long-term good and that of employers with long track records in West Virginia in mind,

State officials already have done much to lure a cracker to West Virginia, including tax incentives. But if more action in Charleston is in the offing, little is being said about it.

Again, time is of the essence. The key to gaining the cracker and full benefits of jobs linked to it will be flexibility to act quickly and strategically.