Mahoning Valley residents have been told for the past few years about economic development that will result from shale development.
The agriculture industry, generally, has not been part of the discussion, but it is an area that could benefit from that development, analysts say.
Natural gas is one of the key elements in the production of nitrogen fertilizer used in farming, said Ted Fillmore, senior area manager for The Andersons Inc., based in Maumee, Ohio, which sells fertilizer from a Trumbull County location.
“There has been talk about more interest in building fertilizer-production facilities,” he said.
Fillmore said, however, he had not been told about any specific location or plans for a plant.
The Andersons is building a 1.5 million-gallon storage tank for fertilizer at its facility at 6161 Muth Road in Lordstown.
The storage tank is the first building investment at the Lordstown site, Fillmore said.
“In the past, we’ve shipped in the fertilizer by rail and had it loaded immediately onto trucks,” he said.
The Andersons also is constructing a 3,500-square-foot building in connection with the $180,000 investment. The company also is planning to build six 30,000-gallon storage tanks that would hold specialty fertilizers, Fillmore said.
The Lordstown expansion is necessary both because the agriculture market in the area has improved and because The Andersons has been able to increase market share locally, he said.
There are groups in the state that are working to promote all the potential byproducts of shale development and will gauge industry interest in making fertilizer, said Brian Gwin, portfolio manager for the Ohio Research and Development Center. Fertilizer production is only one of many opportunities available for growth in the agriculture industry.
A number of food-service companies such as Summer Garden Foods in Boardman are located in Northeast Ohio, and many of them are expanding, he said.
“There are opportunities for more jobs in that sector in this area of the state,” Gwin said.
Several agriculture areas showed potential, including dairy, food, food safety, and the category of beer, wine and spirits, said Emily Garr, manager of research, grants and evaluation for the Fund for our Economic Future, which is a collaboration of philanthropic organizations and individuals in Northeast Ohio. The fund financed a study on agriculture and bioscience businesses.
“The key is to figure out the partnerships available to leverage those strengths,” she said.
The fund plans to study what strategies might exist to take advantage of the region’s opportunities in agriculture, Garr said.
Agriculture in Northeast Ohio already supports more than 19,000 jobs and more than $3 billion in revenue, she said.
“We knew ag and bio were important, but these numbers were a wake-up call even for us,” Garr said. “It’s a growing sector, and one that shouldn’t be ignored.”