WHEELING - As more investment in the natural gas industry happens in the state, West Virginia must now focus on improving the job skills of its residents, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin told local leaders and union representatives Wednesday.
Tomblin addressed the annual Project BEST holiday breakfast at Oglebay Park's Wilson Lodge. He noted that 15 years ago, West Virginia residents had never heard of Marcellus Shale. Then last month, the Odebrecht company announced plans to build an ethane cracker plant in Wood County to make use of byproducts from the natural gas industry - an investment that would be the largest in the state's history, according to Tomblin.
Now, West Virginia must be able to provide the workers necessary to take advantage of the state's natural gas resources.
"One of my biggest fears as governor is having a work force that is untrained," Tomblin said. "We've got to really reach out, we've got to start planning - we should have already been planning - on how we prepare our workforce. We've been working with public education, trade unions, community college systems and our four-year college systems. We've got them all sitting down around the table now. It's going to take all of us working together to ensure that our workforce has the skills for tomorrow's jobs."
He added the hardest working people in the country "are right here in West Virginia," but the state has to to make certain they have "the specific skills necessary for the new industries coming to West Virginia."
Project BEST is a partnership of over 400 building contractors in the Northern Panhandle, the Ohio Valley Construction Employers Council and more than 6,000 trades craftsmen and apprentices of the Upper Ohio Valley Building and Construction Trades Council.
The holiday breakfast takes place each year to honor entities in the private and public sectors who hired union contractors for major projects during the last year.
Honored at the gathering were the Belmont County commissioners for their common pleas court renovation; the Hancock County Board of Education for projects at Allison and New Manchester elementary schools; The Kaley Group for the Kaley Center; The Linsly School for Behren's Gymnasium; Ohio Valley Medical Center; Regional Economic Development Partnership for the Williams Energy and Wheeling Jesuit University Physical Therapy Clinic projects; the Switzerland of Ohio Local School District for school buildings construction; and West Virginia Northern Community College for the student union and Applied Technology Center facilities.
Elected officials regularly attend the Project BEST breakfast each year, and among those present were Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.; Secretary of State Natalie Tennant; Auditor Glen Gainer; Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall; state Sens. Jack Yost, D-Brooke, Larry Edgell, D-Wetzel, and Robert "Rocky" Fitzsimmons, D-Ohio; and Delegates Randy Swartzmiller, D-Hancock, Phil Diserio, D-Brooke, Mike Ferro, D-Marshall, David Evans, R-Marshall, and Erikka Storch, R-Ohio.
Storch also serves on the board of directors for Project BEST.