President Donald Trump came to our region Tuesday in part to celebrate the success of the Shell plastics plant in Beaver County and in part to tout the progress he says has been made because of his administration’s loosening of environmental restrictions, and what he refers to as a common-sense energy independence policy.
Oh, and did we mention that it absolutely and unequivocally was one of many campaign stops we can expect from candidates of both parties in the coming months?
As usual, Trump said some stuff that makes you scratch (or shake) your head — like the reference to how the plant would not be in place if it weren’t for his administration.
We can assume that he meant that his policies since taking office have created a climate in which a plant like this could not only advance, but thrive. But that is not what he said.
Trump said he was responsible for a plant that was conceived under a Republican governor, but that became a reality while a Democrat was in the White House.
So we can sit here and parse the speech and launch another political discussion that accomplishes nothing. There was certainly plenty to debate.
Or we can talk about the plant and what it means to this region, and some of the questions that should concern us as we move forward.
We choose the latter. Leave the rest to the Twitter-sphere — or for a more in-depth look, and fact check, at a later date.
The cracker plant has brought a $6 billion investment to an area that has taken its share of hits. There have been 5,000 construction jobs created already with an estimate of up to 6,000 by the time the plant is completed.
Add to that 600 high-paying jobs once the plant opens, and you have a true economic boom.
But that is not the only upside to the new facility.
The construction includes repurposing and cleanup of a former zinc smelting plant. That means a potential environmental problem will now be an economic solution.
The impact of the plant could also spawn new jobs from industries looking to take advantage of a site close to the cracker plant.
That is even more good news.
But there is another side to consider as well.
This region should never again be beholden to an industry that has an environmental impact that damages our air or our water.
As we move forward with development, there must be rules — not just regulations for the sake of regulations or slowing business growth — but to make sure that this community and others like it will not face long-term fallout from industries that locate here.
The steel industry and other manufacturing interests boomed here for decades. Now, we see the consequences, and have for years, in our land, air and water. And there has been concern about cancer rates as well.
We want growth, but we want responsible growth.
But as we talk about the future and bringing back our manufacturing power, we have to be wary of those whose policies could absolutely erase that growth.
We need jobs and thriving economic development in this area. Period.
We know that nothing destroys a community more than joblessness and poverty — often for generations. If we want proof of what happens when industry goes away, all we have to do is take a drive down the ghost town that is New Castle Avenue in Sharon.
We want common-sense policies, smart decision-making and capitalism — and the chance to grow a business, make an investment or be part of a startup. Money should not just go to the techies. We have ideas and possibilities, too.
The American Dream — that is what we should be about.
So get ready, this region is going to be on the list. Lots of candidates are going to come here asking for your vote.
Listen to what they say with a critical eye — do they have the best interests of your community and state in mind or are they just saying what they think you want to hear?
Do their promises mesh with your values and your vision for your family’s future or are they the opposite of what those of us in the Rust Belt call “good sense?”
And educate yourself. There is a big gathering planned in October to discuss this region’s future — pay attention to the pros, the cons, the possibilities and the liabilities.
Use that information, which we promise to have here for you in abundance, as you evaluate the party platforms, debates and speeches you are about to hear.
This is about our future. And we should not let any candidate or any party destroy our economy or our future so that they can chalk up an election win.
They need our vote and they value our vote. Let’s make them earn it.