RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Pennsylvania is one place jobs are being created, thanks to a natural gas drilling boom. It's a welcome sign for Rust Belt cities accustomed to bad economic news.
NPR's Jeff Brady begins our report in Youngstown, Ohio.
JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: The Brier Hill neighborhood has been relatively quiet for the past few decades, ever since the huge steel mills here shut down. But today, it's noisy again.
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WALTER GOOD: What's really exciting to me is, is for many, many years this area was the poster child for the Rust-Belt economy.
BRADY: Walt Good points to shuttered steel mills that look like huge shadows. Nearby are weed-filled lots where houses used to stand. Good works for the local chamber and i'ts his job to attract new companies. The natural gas drilling boom in nearby Pennsylvania is making that easier.
GOOD: The phone is definitely ringing more.
BRADY: Controversial technologies like hydraulic fracturing allow drillers to bring vast quantities of gas up to the surface. Just this year, more than 1200 wells have been drilled into the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania. Each well needs thousands of feet of steel pipe. So, off in the distance, there's a huge mill under construction.
GOOD: What we're seeing truly is a renaissance, in a place where people thought it wouldn't happen.
BRADY: A French company, Vallourec, owns the mill.
JOEL MASTERVICH: It's a 650 million U.S.-dollar investment, about one million square feet
BRADY: Joel Mastervich, president and COO of Vallourec's U.S. company, V&M Star. He says Youngstown is an attractive place to build the new seamless pipe mill. There's infrastructure and an experienced work force already here. Plus, it's close to the Marcellus.
MASTERVICH: We'll be able to produce the pipe, finish it here and send it to a customer that's, maybe, 100 miles away.
BRADY: Production begins in a few months, but already the Brier Hill neighborhood is perking back up. Stacey Seidita recently opened a sandwich shop in a brick building that had been empty for years.
STACEY SEIDITA: Everything's homemade - homemade meatball sandwiches, sausage sandwiches are homemade, pepperoni rolls, hoagie rolls, sausage rolls - all homemade.
BRADY: Seidita says with about 1,000 construction workers building the mill and the promise of 350 permanent workers later, launching her business now made sense.
SEIDITA: My father's a contractor and he's been telling me for a little while that V&M is going to really start, so that's when I found this building and decided it was time.
BRADY: Around the region, there are many stories of businesses doing well because of the drilling boom. U.S. Steel executive, Doug Mathews, says he was in the small town of Williamsport, Pennsylvania last winter.
DOUG MATHEWS: And in the month of January, I had a difficult time finding a hotel room. And that was a little bit surprising. You wouldn't expect that at that time of year.
BRADY: Mathews is the Senior Vice President of Tubular Operations at U.S. Steel. That means his division makes the pipes and tubes the gas drilling industry uses. U.S. Steel is based in Pittsburgh and it's still a big driver for the local economy. When it does well, so do its contractors.
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BRADY: Chapman Corporation is a construction and engineering firm that's expanding and building a huge new shop at a time many of its peers elsewhere are laying off people. Rich Tomsic is vice president of sales and marketing.
RICH TOMSIC: The $6 million investment that we're putting into our new fabrication facility shows our confidence that the Marcellus Shale play is here to stay. It's not a short-term thing. It's going to be around for 20-plus years.
BRADY: The Marcellus already has brought more jobs to the region, even as the rest of the country is suffering. At Pennsylvania's Department of Labor and Industry, Sue Mukherjee says the number of people working directly for the oil and gas industry - jobs like roustabouts and drill operators - has risen from 5500 in 2008, to nearly 12,000.
SUE MUKHERJEE: This is almost 117 percent growth. If anyone is listening to the media, listening to the news, I would say they wouldn't find such numbers anywhere else in any other industry.
BRADY: Nearly three-quarters of the new hires are Pennsylvania residents, says Mukherjee. And the jobs pay well, about $76,000 a year on average. There also are new jobs in areas you might not imagine at first. This summer the Sierra Club hired someone to direct its natural gas reform campaign in Pennsylvania. Now Deb Nardone wants the state to hire more regulators to look over the drillers' shoulders.
DEB NARDONE: And also an increase in staff that are doing research, that are collecting good science, that are monitoring the environmental impacts - whether it's air quality or water quality.
BRADY: But while natural gas companies have plenty of profits to hire new workers, state governments are having a more difficult time finding money to pay for more employees.
Jeff Brady, NPR News.
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