Spending money to make money

In recent weeks, officials heard the results of a study in which potential economic impact from a hypothetical ethane cracker plant was listed in the billions of dollars. A critical part of that study, conducted by Tom Witt, professor emeritus and former director of West Virginia University’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, and paid for by Braskem America, was the work left to be done by communities that hope to reap the benefits of such a cracker.

“Even if you bring in a facility like this and you have it up and operating, it comes back to human resources,” Witt said. In fact, Witt pointed to the need for “physical and social infrastructure” in order to make the bright future envisioned with the arrival of a cracker a reality.

Communities may be tempted to believe the arrival of a hoped-for cracker plant in West Virginia would mean the end of financial worries for the region. The truth, of course, is that unless associated manufacturers and their employers have a reason to come to the Mid-Ohio Valley and stay, products from the cracker will go elsewhere, instead of staying in the area and forming the basis of a revitalization of West Virginia’s manufacturing, chemical and polymer industries. Companies need to know they are investing in a region that invests in itself.

Again last week, West Virginians were told by national pollsters that they live in the most miserable state in the country. That is five years in a row, for this particular report. Even if we know it is not accurate, corporate executives sitting in faraway offices are more likely to take such a report at face value. It has been difficult for communities in West Virginia to spend money on projects that improve residents’ physical, emotional and social well-being, but such a spending gap keeps us caught in a cycle that sees out-of-state businesses pass over the state and sending their money elsewhere.

You have to spend money to make money, and Parkersburg officials are to be commended for securing $285,000 of the federal government’s money to spend on completion of the Little Kanawha Connector to link Point Park to Corning Park via a long-delayed bicycle and multi-use trail. Projects like the trail, farmers markets, concert series, baseball stadiums and arts festivals are more important to the economic future of the Mid-Ohio Valley than some may realize.

Those hanging their hopes on the arrival of one facility owned by a company based in Brazil would do well to heed Witt’s advice.