Building the training hub for a world-leading petrochemical complex

July 1st, 2016


By Jeannie Peng Mansyur

Help is wanted in the petrochemical industry
In fact, help is wanted so much that approximately 11,430 direct employees and resident contractors in the combined operations, maintenance and engineering occupations will be needed to replace attrition and fill newly-created positions in the petrochemical industry by December 2019, according to Chad Burke, president and CEO of the Economic Alliance Houston Port Region.

What is driving such need?
With $40 billion in capital investment, it is estimated that local expansions will result in 1,000 permanent jobs and approximately 30,000 construction jobs.

“It’s an awesome time to be in this industry and the Houston Ship Channel region,” said Todd Monette, site manager for LyondellBasell in Channelview.

Examples of local expansions include an ethylene cracker and propylene production unit with Dow Chemical in Freeport; an ethylene cracker with ExxonMobil Chemical in Baytown; the La Porte, Channelview and Corpus Christi expansions, and the potential propylene oxide (PO) and tertiary butyl alcohol (TBA) grass root plant with LyondellBasell; and a 1,230-mile ethane pipeline and an ethane export project with Enterprise Products.

CenterXSpreadX2“One of the biggest fallacies, the big myth, that everyone thinks is that what’s happening on the upstream side with oil prices is equally affecting our hiring in the downstream sector,” said Monette, who also serves as a board member and past board chairman with the East Harris County Manufacturers Association (EHCMA), and board member with the Texas Chemical Council (TCC). “The fact is, even with the amount of project needs, we equally have personnel needs for the run and maintain activities of our plants, as workers are retiring. We have got to get people into the workforce pipeline to run our plants along with the construction demand.”

Of the 130 plants in the region, approximately 93 percent of all new hires will be the result of attrition and retirement. At his Channelview plant, Monette hires approximately 30-40 people each year in various jobs from operators to instrument technicians to electricians to replace those who have left due to retirement or other reasons. Many of the positions start between the $70,000 to $80,000 salary range and increase with experience and overtime.

Finding workers just for the new construction projects alone presents a challenge. Burke warns that a shortage in skilled craftsman needed for these expansions could slow or delay project completions.

“With many major projects under construction now and for the next two to three years, it has put a real pinch on the pool of industrial construction workers,” said Burke. “These companies utilize a much higher number of craftsman than the plants and are currently in much greater need.”

Monette said that out of those contracted for the LyondellBasell expansions, there will be some who are considered for full-time plant positions after the projects are completed.

CenterXSpreadX4Turning to education for the right applicants
While the petrochemical industry is in need of more workers, what it really needs is a more “skilled workforce,” according to Randy Boeding, who is retired from the petrochemical industry and now serves as an independent consultant with the R Boeding Group, LLC. Boeding also is a consultant to San Jacinto College for the development of the Center for Petrochemical, Energy, and Technology.

“Now, applicants who want jobs in petrochemical need to have two-year associate degrees and this is very different than how it was in the past,” said Boeding.

In today’s petrochemical industry, applicants are expected to have credentials beyond high school but not necessarily four-year degrees. “These are not the old labor jobs from the plants of the past,” said Monette. “The jobs have changed over the years, are very technical in nature and now require a different and more advanced skill set. It’s important for people to have at least a certificate or associate degree.”

In addition to requiring certificates and degrees for the job, industry representatives now have a seat at the table when discussing petrochemical program curriculum and training facility needs in the education sector. Each petrochemical-related program at San Jacinto College is guided by an advisory committee that meets throughout the year to ensure that courses fall in line with what is needed from new hires in the industry.

Graduates out of the San Jacinto College process technology, non-destructive testing, welding, pipefitting, electrical and instrumentation programs are in such high demand that companies contribute thousands of dollars each year toward scholarships just to get students through the programs and into the hiring process.

Last year, Dow announced an apprenticeship program for San Jacinto College students that includes salary and tuition for training and books for three years. This unique opportunity allows students to study full time for the first year and pick up their internship hours while studying part time during the second and third years. Shell announced that it will pay for full-ride scholarships for selected students who complete advanced chemistry courses and who want to work in the plants for more analytical purposes.

Students also are encouraged to pursue internships, with many receiving full-time positions once they complete their programs.

“We want industry face-to-face with our students,” said Jeffrey Parks, dean of business and technology at San Jacinto College. “We want industry on our advisory boards and in our facilities.”

CenterXSpreadX1Building the region’s petrochemical training hub
San Jacinto College is in the planning process of building a new facility for petrochemical training and is relying on industry representatives’ feedback to do so. These representatives are part of a Petrochemical Advisory Council formed by San Jacinto College Chancellor Dr. Brenda Hellyer.

The Petrochemical Advisory Council includes representatives from approximately 15 petrochemical companies, said Boeding. They are tasked with assessing the curriculum, equipment and planning for the Center, which is projected to be completed in 2018. It will be the largest facility on the College’s Central Campus at approximately 133,000 square feet. The Center will contain an exterior glycol unit that is incorporated into the training in all of the programs. The new facility will house training spaces and equipment for programs in process technology, instrumentation, electrical and non-destructive testing, as well as space for continuing education and contract training for industry partners.

“The Center for Petrochemical, Energy and Technology will be a technologically-advanced facility for the region’s workforce training,” said Hellyer. “This is made possible because of voters in our district who approved funding in the 2015 bond referendum to build this new facility. I also have to thank our industry partners for providing their invaluable insight to create the Center so that we can recruit and train skilled workers for our region, which is home to the world’s second largest petrochemical complex.”

The new Center for Petrochemical, Energy and Technology will be the first facility constructed from the 2015 bond election. The $425 million bond referendum was approved by voters in the District in November 2015 and includes a Center for Engineering and Technology, new cosmetology and culinary centers, a new welcome center and classroom building, along with the renovation of nine facilities that are at least 30 years old. The funding also includes infrastructure and security updates. In addition, San Jacinto College will open a Center for Industrial Technology next spring to serve as a training hub for welding, pipefitting fabrication, diesel technology, international business and logistics, electrical technology, engineering design graphics and HVACR.

San Jacinto College recently opened the Maritime Technology and Training Center on the Maritime Campus at 3700 Old State Highway 146 in La Porte, which serves to complement the petrochemical industry. Maritime and petrochemical coexist to produce and move product that has ultimately resulted in the region’s creation of 1,174,567 jobs in the state of Texas and a $264.9 billion statewide economic impact.

“In my opinion the new petrochemical training facility is an incredible example of education getting it right,” said Burke. “It will do two things, directly support the main economic engine in the region and prepare people for careers. A facility like this will ensure that this region maintains its edge in developing a qualified workforce.”

Leaders In Our Community

July 1st, 2015

Women of the Economic Alliance Houston Port Region

By Kaitlyn Conner

Last month, the Economic Alliance Houston Port Region (Economic Alliance) hosted the Women’s Leadership Luncheon at Cullen’s restaurant. Women of various industries met and mingled about their successes and strengths in the workforce, how to stay motivated, past and present challenges, and the life events that have led to their success. Three women in leadership roles at the Economic Alliance provided me the opportunity to interview them about their accomplishments. #EAWomen

Brenda Hellyer PhotoDr. BRENDA HELLYER
Past Chairman (2012-2013)

In 2009, Dr. Brenda Hellyer was appointed Chancellor of San Jacinto College, Texas’ seventh largest community college. Prior to the position of chancellor, Dr. Hellyer served in many executive positions at San Jacinto College, including: executive vice president for resource development, vice chancellor for fiscal affairs, chief financial officer, and executive vice chancellor.

Dr. Hellyer addressed over 35 women during the June Women’s Leadership Luncheon. During her presentation, she shared three inspiring points. The first was to, “Encourage others and find your passion.”  Women should encourage one another to stay motivated and find what they love in their work.  In doing so, women in the workforce can become leaders for future generations.

The second point was, “Where you begin your journey may not be where you complete your journey.”

She reminded us that it is easier to resist change than to accept it, but over the long term, change may make the greatest impact in one’s life. By embracing change, we as women become powerful individuals that are able to take on the world.

She concluded her presentation noting that, “Change creates choices for all of us.” By branching out and remaining open to new ideas, we create a vulnerable yet powerful side to ourselves.

Throughout her encouraging presentation, Dr. Hellyer reminded us that although it isn’t always easy, we should stay consistently focused on the end goal of who we ultimately want to be.

Marie McDermott PhotoMARIE McDERMOTT
VP of Business Development

Marie McDermott has over 30 years of experience in economic development. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelor of Science degree in International Business and Finance. In 1997, Ms. McDermott received her Economic Developer Certification from the International Economic Development Council and became Chairman of the Texas Economic Development Council in 2004. She achieved the role of vice president of business development at the Economic Alliance Houston Port Region in 2007, where she markets the Houston Ship Channel region to international and domestic businesses.

Ms. McDermott reminds us that staying interested is the key to successful relationships by saying, “Economic development is my passion – I have done economic development for the State of Texas, two different regions, and a city.  I enjoy working with people that are pleased to take me into their businesses and show me around their facilities. They love their businesses, and I love learning from them.”

When asked about the struggles she has faced in the workforce, she said that her perspective has changed over time. When she was younger, there weren’t very many noticeable challenges that really stood out to her; now that she is older, she has greater perspective.  “I prefer women that just move ahead,” McDermott says, encouraging women not to be concerned about their differences.

In addition to her positive outlook, Ms. McDermott’s education has also prepared her well for her role.  She says, “I utilize finance in my projects, and I am always seeking international projects.  One reason I have worked in the Houston Port Region is that many firms have global headquarters here.”

Karen Gregory PhotoKAREN GREGORY
Chairman (2014 – 2015)

Karen Gregory joined the Economic Development team on behalf of CenterPoint Energy in 2007.  Her career with the company has spanned more than 26 years. In addition to developing the northern region of the service area, she is responsible for developing projects and relationships in the distribution and logistics market.

Ms. Gregory, a curious person by nature, says one of the best ways to stay motivated is to constantly be learning new things.  However, according to Gregory, you also need, “personal time, time to just shut down from work, and take a step away from the phone and emails.”  Gregory says, “It’s easy to get burnt out. When you’re so focused on going, going, going, and you never stop to take a breather, you can run yourself into the ground.”

When asked how she stands out from the rest of her team, Ms. Gregory laughed, “Well, I kind of have a loud voice,” she said.  On a more serious note, she answered, “Honestly, the best thing to do is to find your niche or an area of interest that you invest time and studies into for the benefit of educating other employees.” She was known as the “Lighting Expert” for a while due to her expertise in that area.

Ms. Gregory has worked her way up during her career at CenterPoint. “I came out of college at 22 years old ready to set the world on fire, wanting to find something cool do to with my life,” she says. “I thrived at work and eventually my personality fit into what I was doing here at CenterPoint.”

Ms. Gregory recently returned from Wisconsin, where she received her Certified Economic Developer designation, a national recognition that denotes a mastery of principal skills in economic development, professional attainment, and a commitment to personal and professional growth.

Thank you to our Economic Alliance Women we appreciate everything that you do for our organization and our region.

For more about the Economic Alliance visit

Kaitlyn is a senior at Sam Houston State University, graduating in May 2016 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Public Relations. This summer, she is participating in an internship at the Economic Alliance Houston Port Region.

2014 Petrochemical & Maritime Outlook Conference

September 5th, 2014

Economic Alliance President and CEO Chad Burke, right, welcomes Congressmen Gene Green, left, and Randy Weber, speakers at the 5th Annual Maritime & Petrochemical Outlook Conference at the Pasadena Convention Center.

Economic Alliance President and CEO Chad Burke, right, welcomes Congressmen Gene Green, left, and Randy Weber, speakers at the 5th Annual Maritime & Petrochemical Outlook Conference at the Pasadena Convention Center.

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.


650 attend

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.


Exciting times

“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.


Bay Area Houston Magazine