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Group: Drillers cushion region

Cheryl R. Clarke
Williamsport Sun Gazette

December 11, 2010

Wellsboro, Pa. - According to Richard Stetz, CareerLink regional manager, the economy in his five-county region, which includes Tioga County, is growing, albeit slowly.

Recently released unemployment figures for Tioga County stand at 8.5 percent.

Bradford County shows 7.3 percent, a level below the state's, mainly because it is the hub of the Northern Tier's Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling industry, and unemployment in Potter County is 10.8 percent, above even the national level.

"The state unemployment rate is 8.5 percent, but the federal figures went up from 9.6 to 9.8 percent last month, those numbers aren't moving in the right direction," Stetz said during the Tioga County Development Corps meeting Friday.

"The bright and shining star is the Mansfield area," he added.

He cited the opening of the new Lowe's Home Improvement Store in Richmond Township, which just hired 120 people, as well as "lots of activity with gas jobs."

"If you have a commercial drivers license you are a hot commodity right now in Tioga County," he said.

Stetz also said a new CVS distribution center across the border in New York state's Southern Tier will service 350 stores and possibly hire up to 800 more people next year.

"About 60 will start there in January with another 600 to 800 possible jobs once that gets rolling," he said.

Stetz said mainly because of the natural gas drilling industry, the area has "lots to look forward to. More so than other parts of the country."

"Gas related industry is our big gold rush for Pennsylvania and don't forget oil, which they say is under the shale," he said, adding, "usually this is a slow period for us, but we are as busy as ever. Now all you see are triaxle trucks so things are booming."

Even though natural gas drilling is up, the prices for residential customers are down, according to UGI Utilities Inc. representative Andrew Rohrer.

"On the natural gas utilities side, those meters are humming with this cold weather, but the good news is it won't cost as much. Gas prices have come down by about 10 percent for the average residential customer, which is great news heading into the heating season. So happy holidays," he added.

Four new sand silos have gone up on Growth Resources of Wellsboro property in Delmar Township, reported organization Secretary Mary Worthington, and four more will be going up in 2011, all due to the natural gas industry, she said.

"Wellsboro and Corning Railroad is busy," she added.

The Grand Canyon Airport is losing its fixed base operator, Wes McKinney, just as use by the natural gas industry is picking up, said Tom Freeman, who represents Blue Ridge Communications. Freeman sits on a committee looking into how to keep the airport going.

"Wes just announced he will not renew his contract and they are trying to figure out how they will continue. We will start meeting with stakeholders to identify users and those the airport is important to, and how to revitalize it. We really have no idea who uses the airport and are trying to gather some data to present to the authority so it will be a functional viable asset and not have white x's on the runway next year," he said.

Worthington said the airport is used by King Air, a Shell Oil and Gas company subsidiary, which recently acquired East Resources, to fly in replacement parts for drilling operations as they go down, so "you may see some increase."