Happy excitement is roused by the prospect of a billion-dollar ethane cracker near Parkersburg, which could spawn many chemical plants turning ethylene into plastics and the like. Gov. Tomblin calls it "a defining moment in the economic development of the Mountain State." Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette says it's "the largest single industrial project in the history of the state of West Virginia."
We sure hope these glowing predictions come to pass. It will be wonderful if the upstate Marcellus Shale gas boom creates an entire new West Virginia industry -- using natural gas hydrocarbons to make a wide variety of chemicals -- creating multitudes of well-paying jobs and producing prosperity.
State leaders have performed superbly so far in assisting the Brazil-based Odebrecht conglomerate, which wants to launch the cracker and three petrochemical plants at the site of a dying Saudi-owned chemicals plant.
We hope legislators, the state Development Office and other officials do their utmost to keep this project on-track. Groundwork was already laid when the 2011 Legislature approved tax breaks for any firm creating a billion-dollar ethane cracker. Other groundwork included reducing the corporate net income tax and business franchise tax, as well as privatizing the workers' compensation system -- all strong incentives luring industry.
Last week's cracker plan announcement was a bright spot for West Virginia, boosting spirits. Nonetheless, people should avoid over-enthusiasm. Remember that Pennsylvania offered $1.65 billion in tax giveaways to induce Shell to create a cracker in Beaver County -- but now the project is in limbo. And remember that modern, automated, chemical plants need far fewer employees than plants did a generation ago. And remember that some other bright industrial hopes didn't quite live up to expectations.
Regardless, we hope this new gas-to-chemicals proposal becomes a "defining moment" for West Virginia, as Gov. Tomblin foresees.