STEUBENVILLE - Saying shale development holds "tremendous potential" for bringing jobs and economic growth to the Buckeye State, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown told Steubenville residents Monday those jobs need to go to Ohioans.
During a visit to Eastern Gateway Community College's Pugliese Center, Brown, D-Ohio, said his SECTORS initiative, otherwise known as the "Strengthening Employment Clusters to Organize Regional Success" Act, would ensure training is aligned with the needs of industries that are creating the jobs while providing a "more structured, a more reliable ongoing stream of money" to pay for those programs, which he said are key to ensuring Ohioans benefit from growth industries.
"We must make sure these new jobs are going to Ohioans, not out-of-staters," Brown said. "That's exactly what Retrain America and the ShaleNet programs at Eastern Gateway Community College are designed to do - train locals for shale exploration positions. The SECTORS act takes a similar approach by aligning worker training programs to the needs of industries that are creating jobs. It helps local communities, and educational institutions like EGCC, tailor work force training to meet industry needs. Here in Jefferson County, the SECTORS Act would help the community make sure more workers are prepared for opportunities in shale development."
ShaleNet is a U.S. Department of Labor-funded initiative focused on preparing local residents for new jobs in the oil and gas industry. Likewise, "Retrain America" offers similar training for Ohioans looking for work in the shale industry. Eastern Gateway is using both to prepare area residents to work in oil- and gas-related jobs.
Kim Cline, project manager at Progress Alliance, described the Jefferson County community as the "gateway to Ohio's shale region." Blessed with an interstate highway, river and rail access, she said the shale boom, although still in its infancy, has nonetheless been "a totally different experience for us." Where before the Progress Alliance staff had to search out potential suitors, she said potential investors now are contacting them in search of assistance in locating sites or hiring workers.
"In my opinion, Jefferson County's been really in front of the ball," she told Brown. "In a lot of (ways) Jefferson County is the poster child for other counties. We're trying to stay in the forefront, instead of letting it run us over."
Tracee Joltes, assistant director of work force outreach at Eastern Gateway, said the school's ShaleNet program has already graduated about 70 students, roughly 60 percent of whom are working in the oil and gas industry so far. Others have found work in machine shops that serve the industry in some capacity, she said.
A program like SECTORS, she said, would "provide more opportunities."
"These companies want to hire local (workers)," she added. "It costs them less money to hire local."
Brown said employers in emerging industries - a list he says includes things like solar energy, advanced manufacturing and health care - struggle to find qualified workers to fill job openings, despite Ohio's 7.5 percent unemployment rate. He said SECTORS would tailor work force development to the needs of those industries, allowing more workers to be placed in those new jobs and attracting more businesses to the region.
The bill would organize stakeholders connected to a regional industry to develop plans for growing that industry, he said. Eligible entities would be able to apply for a one-year planning grant of up to $250,000 and a three-year implementation grant of up to $2.5 million, he said.
Brown said the SECTORS program would give schools like Eastern Gateway "an ongoing stream of money" to develop specialized training programs meeting the needs of growth industries in their region.
Prior to meeting with students in one of those retraining programs, Brown fielded questions from residents and listened to their perception of the shale industry. He told those in attendance that the shale boom "is all good news if done right."
"(And) 'done right' means making sure of other things, that any manufacturing is done in this county ... that drinking water is protected, that we know what chemicals are used in the process, and that these jobs are local jobs."