U.S. Steel has announced plans to invest more than $1 billion on state-of-the-art facilities in western Pennsylvania that it says will improve its steel-making efficiency and reduce emissions. The new facility could be in operation in 2022.
The Pittsburgh announcement is the second the company has made this year. In February, U.S. Steel announced it would restart construction on an idled manufacturing facility in Alabama. President Donald Trump's "strong trade actions" were partly responsible for the resumption of work at a plant near Birmingham, the company said. Trump imposed a 25% tariff on steel imports last year.
Meanwhile, construction continues on Shell's $6 billion ethane cracker plant along the Ohio River at Monaca, Pennsylvania, near West Virginia's Northern Panhandle. Thai energy giant PTT Global continues planning work before deciding whether to build its own large ethane cracker at Dilles Bottom, Ohio, across the river from Moundsville, West Virginia.
Closer to home, Braidy Industries plans to construct a $1.7 billion aluminum rolling mill in Eastern Kentucky.
West Virginia has had some successes, too, in landing large projects. The Eastern Panhandle has had two big developments in recent years: a Procter & Gamble manufacturing center and a Macy's distribution center. The U.S. 50 corridor between Parkersburg and Clarksburg has benefited from investment in natural gas infrastructure - gas well drilling, processing plants and a natural gas-fired power plant under construction near Clarksburg. There's also the new Hino Motors assembly operation at Mineral Wells in Wood County.
Coal mining as an industry may be down, but Arch Coal is building a large new metallurgical coal mine in Barbour County.
But what about the part of West Virginia south of U.S. 50? The last big announcement that came to fruition was the Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia assembly plant in Putnam County in 1996. There has been a series of expansions since then, but as far as a mega-project that can excite the public, what has happened?
This part of the state had a good run in the 1990s as foreign investment built new factories that helped replace older ones that had lost their markets to competition or to newer technologies.
Industrial development across the state line can help West Virginians, too. Downtown Weirton is closer to downtown Pittsburgh than downtown Huntington is to downtown Charleston. However, it would be nice if this part of the state were as competitive for major developments as our neighbors are. Industrial facilities in other states don't pay the property taxes and business taxes that pay for schools and emergency services.
It could be West Virginia's tax structure. It could be the lack of available sites, although we have plenty of brownfields that could be developed. It could be air travel. Moundsville is close to the Pittsburgh airport, and Martinsburg is within range of airports in Washington, D.C. As proud as people in Huntington and Charleston are of Tri-State and Yeager airports, it's hard to compete with the major airline hubs.
Southern West Virginia needs tax collections to keep its public services running at the levels people need and expect. Tax collections require a strong economy, which requires new investment to replace businesses that die in the normal course of time. Growth across the border is good. Growth in West Virginia's own territory in the northern and eastern counties is better. Growth and investment in the southern counties is crucial.