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By Karl Henkel
Hopes were high heading into Wednesday’s Youngstown Ohio Utica and Natural Gas conference and expo.
The event lived up to expectations: A few thousand patrons and dozens of businesses had the chance to interact.
But two major announcements — one from Vallourec, the parent company of V&M Star, and another from Youngstown State University — made the inaugural YOUNG conference one to remember.
Vallourec, which has invested $650 million in a new V&M Star mill that will create 350 new jobs, announced a $57 million investment that will employ an estimated 100 full-time workers at a new VAM USA, LLC plant.
“Most of our hiring will be done locally,” said Judson Wallace, president of VAM, an affiliate of Vallourec.
By 2013, Vallourec will have invested more than $700 million and created nearly 500 jobs in the Mahoning Valley.
The newest facility will be a finishing plant, which will allow VAM to thread pipe that’s produced from the $650 million mill for use in the Utica and Marcellus shale plays.
V&M will renovate a 200,000-square-foot building — the old Youngstown Sheet & Tube Brier Hill Works facility — that’s currently in the Cooperative Agreement Zone along the Youngstown-Girard border. The company expects the plant to open in mid-2012 and be fully operational by 2013.
Joel Mastervich, COO of V&M Star, said most of VAM’s activity will come from pipe produced at V&M, which will begin producing pipe in April and will continue to ramp up production in the following months.
“There’s an operating efficiency in doing business here,” he said.
The announcement was lauded by area lawmakers, including U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Avon.
“By partnering with V&M Star and expanding its footprint in Youngstown, VAM USA is underscoring its confidence in the Mahoning Valley’s workers and their commitment to making quality products,” he said.
Youngstown Mayor Charles Sammarone proclaimed that he “can’t emphasize enough that Youngstown is open for business.” He said the city will be accommodating toward those in the Utica Shale industries.
U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, said he was “hopeful that VAM’s decision is just the beginning of the investment in the Valley and Ohio that we need to get people back to work.”
A recent Statehouse report said the shale industry could result in 200,000 jobs, but economic analysts from Pennsylvania, the state about five years ahead of Ohio in shale drilling, say that number is overinflated.
Regardless of the number, however, shale jobs, according to industry professionals, require a skilled workforce.
That led to Wednesday’s announcement from YSU, which introduced plans to add a Natural Gas and Water Resources Institute to help students obtain skills needed to work in Utica Shale-related industries.
Martin Abraham, dean of the YSU College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, said the institute will also provide research on water-related issues such as reuse and recycling.
“We think this is going to put Youngstown in a leadership position,” he said.
The institute will provide students — mostly in the science-related fields — an opportunity to earn a minor on top of their regular bachelor’s degree.
Abraham said he doesn’t believe there is a need at this time for a four-year program.
The concept of the institute will be presented at to the YSU trustees board today; the first classes could begin next fall, and students could earn a minor in natural gas and water resources and graduate with it as early as May 2013.
The event was deemed a success by organizers like Eric Planey, vice president of international business attraction at the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, host of the conference, who said it may have been the biggest industry trade show in Valley history.
Eric Ryan, executive director of the Covelli Centre, agreed.
“We’re very happy with the turnout,” he said. “It showed the versatility we have at the center.”