Dawson: Region can use shale play to boost chances for US 30 upgrade

SALEM – Business opportunities spun off from the oil and gas industry continue building and the region needs to strengthen its hand to take full advantage of them.

And at least one of the 80 guests attending the 2013 Columbiana County “Teaming 4 Success” Economic Development Summit at the Salem Community Center said it will be shame if the region doesn’t do that on Monday.

Upgrades to the U.S Route 30 corridor that splits the county from east to west are a big part of the opportunity equation for County Engineer Bert Dawson.

A vital 30-mile link from state Route 11 to Canton is two lanes and Dawson, especially with the shale boom, is more insistent than ever about the region’s “need for good transportation for the next 20 to 30 years.”

West of Canton is a 240-mile, four-lane link to Chicago and Dawson said, “We have to prepare for what’s going to happen with this oil and gas.”

Exploitation of massive natural gas plays is expected to evolve into a mass transportation switchover to natural gas vehicles and Dawson sees a continuing erosion of the gas pump taxes critical to road maintenance because of that.

A tenured proponent of the Route 30 widening, Dawson said his approach to the Ohio Department of Transportation and its Transportation Review Advisory Council, that assists in the project selection process, is “are you aware of what’s happening? … in northeast Ohio, Stark, Carroll and Columbiana counties?

He added, “ODOT has no plan to address the energy needs in this energy explosion.”

There is money, Dawson said for what he tells state officials is the “Energy Corridor” through Stark, Carroll, Columbiana and Harrison counties.

He uses the term “Energy Corridor” to get their attention, he said.

A private firm estimated it will cost $650 million to widen the 30-mile stretch and Dawson said it could be funded by a long-term $475 million bond paid for by tolls and $120 million in Ohio Turnpike (diesel) severance money.

Dawson and elected officials from surrounding counties will ask the state for the severance money next month.

“It starts to become feasible,” he said, but in response to a question, even if expedited, the project is four to five years out for a four-lane road and about two years out for what he called a “super two” lane road.

“It’s phenomenal what’s happening in Carroll County,” Dawson said, noting 100 wells have been drilled and he signed 11 road use management agreements (RUMAs) last week in Columbiana County.

Larry Kosiba, executive director for the Sustainable Opportunity Development Center, an arm of the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce which presented the forum along with the six other chambers in Columbiana County, said the Route 30 project was dead for many years but “Bert Dawson has pulled this together.”

Steve Fritsch of Team Ohio, spoke on the regional economic competitiveness in Northeast Ohio and the network approach to market it. Team Ohio partners with Jobs Ohio.

He said it was about building collaborative networks adding that, “I don’t think business or practitioners leverage very well.”

To build a best-in-class economic development system obstacles have to be overcome including entry points into the system, which Fritsch said was something they were “trying to stress.”

He said the system needs to work and people know what’s in place to connect resources that support economic growth on a regional basis … and to set up and environment to make it happen.

Fritsch said Team NEO has a research team at its disposal with a “tremendous amount of resources.”

Its approach is pretty simple, he said, explaining Team NEO must first understand the project or “what is causing the growth,” and then understand the challenge and what would prohibit a company from growing and what it needs.

After that it’s a matter for the Team NEO’s support network and following up with financial possibilities ranging from tax credits to infrastructure grants, training and higher education.

Fristch said one thing many people are unaware of is “Ohio’s improved tax climate,” adding, “this is one of the states’ big selling points … it’s relatively unknown” when compared to other midwestern states.

Other assets Ohio has to attract business is a location that helps minimize transportation risks and costs while increasing shareholder value.

In an oil and gas related question regarding what happens when all the construction is completed and the gas lines are in the ground, Paul R. Boulier, vice president of Team NEO, said the challenge is to keep the “value chain here.”

By that he meant petro-chemicals and plastics.

“We’re right on the cusp,” he said, “we have the opportunity to do it right. The tech is out there … the people in the chemical industry live here too … and they have an interest.”

He added that transportation provides supply-chain opportunities and “a potential to distribute products … it doesn’t get any better than that …”

Salem Mayor John Berlin said the oil and gas boom is bringing renewed optimism to the area marketplace and interest in the Salem has increased.

The city is pursuing a grant to develop sewer services for more residents outside the city.

Larry Shields can be reached at lshields@salemnews.net