Robust economic growth forecast amid resurgent energy renaissance
By Mary Alys Cherry
Leaders from the petrochemical, maritime, logistics and transportation industries delivered robust economic forecasts for the Houston Ship Channel region during the 5th annual Economic Alliance Houston Port Region Petrochemical & Maritime Outlook Conference at the Pasadena Convention Center Sept. 4. More than 650 people listened to encouraging news about expansion plans amid a resurgent energy renaissance in Texas and the U.S.
The Port of Houston Authority and the Panama Canal Authority gave presentations recognizing their growth as 100-year anniversaries are being celebrated for both the canal and the Houston Ship Channel.
Port of Houston Authority Commission Chairman Janiece Longoria outlined capital investments that will help the Port Authority meet demand of regional expansion. Panama Canal Authority Manager of Market Forecasting Silvia deMarucci addressed the status of the Panama Canal lock expansion, reporting that the project is back on schedule.
“It is an exciting time to be involved in international trade and business growth at the port. This year, we celebrate the fact that for a century the Houston Ship Channel has played a pivotal role in the economic health of our city and region,” Longoria said.
Todd Monette, chairman of East Harris County Manufacturers Association, provided an overview of national and global factors driving industry growth in the region. A Greater Houston Port Bureau economic study projects that the region can expect more than $35 billion in plant expansion in the next several years.
Thousands of jobs
This expansion will generate thousands of jobs, including as many as 100,000 skilled construction jobs during the next three to five years, according to industry sources.
The executive vice president of Shell’s global manufacturing business, Lori Ryerkerk, highlighted how changes in supply and demand for advantaged feedstocks are shaping the U.S. and global refining and petrochemical business. Addressing the conference as a keynote speaker, Ryerkerk concluded, “I’m excited about the prospects for the refining and petrochemical future, both globally and here on the Gulf Coast.”
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, Congressmen Gene Green and Randy Weber, as well as Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Chairman Dr. Bryan W. Shaw told the audience that they would be vigilant in overseeing the regulatory environment and ensuring that unduly burdensome regulation does not dampen the energy renaissance in the U.S.
Played key role
“Over the last 100 years, the Houston Port region has been transformed into a true global entity and economic powerhouse,” Senator Cornyn said. “The communities and businesses that make up the Economic Alliance have played a key role in that growth, helping to make this region a symbol of economic dynamism, entrepreneurial energy, and upward mobility.”
In addition to the Port of Houston and petrochemical leaders announcing continued growth for the region, logistics and transportation leaders told conference attendees that they are seeing growth in product movement via marine, truck, rail and pipeline shipments. They also are seeing great demand for qualified workers to fill the jobs.
Solutions to address the shortage of qualified workers were discussed during the outlook conference. Through a collaborative effort by the Economic Alliance, industry organizations and local community colleges like San Jacinto College and Lee College, a critical shortage of skilled workers is being addressed through “fast-track” certification programs. The Economic Alliance testified and supported recent changes in education to allow high school students to take specific curriculum to prepare them for high-paying middle-skills jobs.
“It is wonderful to hear the Port of Houston chairman announce that these are exciting times for the port and encouraging us to listen as a panel of petrochemical plant managers and industry leaders tell us that the energy renaissance and industry expansion could last more than 10 years,” said Leonard A. Bedell.
Bedell, who was one of the more than 650 attendees, is president and CEO of Mobil Steel, a founding sponsor of the Economic Alliance outlook conference.
“This positive message is very different from the first couple of years when we heard that local industry could not compete against global competition for new plant expansion,” he added.
The Economic Alliance Houston Port Region provides professional economic development services to 16 communities along the 25-mile Houston Ship Channel. Since the economic downturn in 2008, the Economic Alliance has supported more than 40 successful projects creating more than 4,400 new jobs and $5.5 billion of capital investment in the Houston Port Region. According to today’s economic forum, prospects are bright for future investment.
“I agree with Chairman Longoria,” Economic Alliance CEO Chad Burke said. “These are exciting times to be a partner with the Port of Houston Authority and the Houston Ship Channel refining and petrochemical industry. The energy industry’s resurgence due to abundant, affordable natural gas is good for U.S businesses,” said. “We are working to help our members expand their facilities, bringing in new companies and new projects.
“We have helped our region prepare for this renaissance by working with industry trade groups and our legislative members to provide our school districts and colleges the tools to better prepare our residents for the high-paying industry jobs,” Burke added. “We started an initiative more than two years ago to address a shortage of skilled workers. We have led a collaborative effort of business, industry, education and economic development groups to provide our residents skills needed for new jobs in the region.”
The Port of Houston Authority is the presenting sponsor of the Petrochemical & Maritime Outlook Conference. Shell Oil Company, San Jacinto College and Bay Group Media are gold level sponsors. Another 40 companies sponsored at silver and bronze levels.