Sen. Manchin touts region

WEIRTON — The Northern Panhandle is awash in opportunity, according to U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, especially when it comes to the energy sector.

“We’ve got a new Renaissance,” Manchin (D-W.Va.) said during a visit Friday to Weirton. “It’ll be different. It’ll be more diverse than what it has been.”

Manchin was in the Northern Panhandle to meet with area business representatives in order to get a better idea of some of the challenges faced in the region, and what assistance may be needed. He also took a moment to visit the future site of Pietro Fiorentini’s new manufacturing facility in Weirton. The operation will be the Italian company’s first manufacturing site in the U.S.

“We’ve always done the heavy lifting in West Virginia,” Manchin said, explaining the state’s resources, in particular its available workforce with experience in various industries.

Noting Pietro Fiorentini and Bidell’s locating operations to Weirton, Manchin said it shows companies and investors are paying attention to West Virginia. Further evidence, he said, was the purchase of several thousand acres of former mill property from ArcelorMittal Steel by the Frontier Group earlier this year, with plans to remediate the land for future development.

“If it’s about location, location, location, then we’ve been blessed,” Manchin said, explaining close to 70 percent of the nation’s population is within driving distance and the region’s highways, rail and river access has been a benefit.

Manchin said, when it comes to growth in the energy sector, there needs to be a balanced approach to job creation, worker safety and environmental concerns

Among the potential energy projects Manchin is following is a proposal for an ethane storage hub, which potentially could be located in either West Virginia, Pennsylvania or Ohio. Manchin said the proposed hub would provide a more secure storage area for the natural gas produced in the region.

Currently much of the nation’s natural gas is shipped and stored in the coastal regions.

“They’re so subject to the natural disasters and the weather patterns,” he said.

Manchin said such a storage hub — estimated as a $10 billion project — also would help to provide more energy independence for the United States, and the idea is garnering attention from other members of Congress and the Department of Energy.

“I think they’re seeing it and interested in helping us along,” he said.

He said it is important to forget about where the storage hub might go, because the entire region will benefit through the creation of new jobs.

“It’s the old theory of build it and they will come,” he said.