A study conducted by Shell determined that 70% of its potential North American polyethylene customers lie within a 700-mile radius of the Beaver site. Moreover, unlike the Gulf Coast, the region has no disruptive hurricane season. Those factors have kept the project on track, even when oil prices took a dip. When all is said and done, the plant will have created approximately 6,000 construction jobs and 600 permanent jobs.
The plastics industry already has a strong foothold in the region, notably the so-called Plastics Cluster in Erie County and northwest Pennsylvania. Companies well-known to the PlasticsToday community, such as Micro Mold/Plastikos, Silgan Plastics and Berry Plastics, have a decades-long presence in the area.
Advanced polymers producer Covestro, known as Bayer MaterialScience until Bayer spun out the business in September 2015, has been a high-profile presence in the Pittsburgh area for many years. Its expansive facility sits alongside the Bayer plant.
And near the airport, GE opened its $39-million Center for Additive Technology Advancement (CATA) in 2016. A year later, GE announced that it was developing the CATA into an externally focused Customer Experience Center. Equipped with an array of industrial additive manufacturing equipment, the center enables clients to glimpse the potential of 3D printing under real-life conditions.
|Penn State Behrend's Plastics Engineering Technology program is one of only six such programs recognized by the Engineering Technology Accreditation Commission. Image courtesy Penn State Behrend.|
A third pillar of the region’s advanced manufacturing framework is a supportive educational ecosystem. For the plastics industry, that begins with Penn State Behrend: Its Plastics Engineering Technology (PLET) program is one of only six such programs recognized by the Engineering Technology Accreditation Commission. The university's plastics processing laboratory is the largest undergraduate educational facility of its type, housing millions of dollars’ worth of computers, materials, and processing equipment.
With its high density of plastics manufacturers creating downstream demand for ethylene and an engaged academic environment, the “Erie region is uniquely positioned to take advantage of this opportunity,” according to Amy Bridger, Senior Director of Corporate Strategy and External Engagement at Penn State Behrend. “Our plastics companies are well established and positioned for growth. Expansion of the Plastics Engineering Technology program at Penn State Behrend and the development of new curricula and research will help those companies and others across the industry meet the workforce demands of a larger, Pennsylvania-focused market,” Bridger told PlasticsToday. “Our students also will benefit, through opportunities for industry research, increased exposure to potential employers and the sort of experiential learning that you can’t offer in a classroom.”
As it stands, 63% of PLET graduates are still living in Pennsylvania, according to the school. If all goes according to plan, even more graduates will have fewer reasons to leave the region in the years ahead.