Energy in Communities: Moon Township, Pennsylvania
Energy Empowers Western Pennsylvania Comeback Stories
The Coraopolis Bicycle shop is celebrating 50 years in business. Walk through its unassuming front door and Dick Wolf, the shop’s quiet owner, appears from the back room where he rehabs gears, brakes and tires for customers young and old. His story is a tale of Western Pennsylvania.
When Wolf opened his store in 1969, he sold a little of everything, including bicycles. You could think of his original shop as akin to a today’s Dollar Stores. However, the big box companies began to put pressure on his business, so he transformed the Fifth Street storefront into a pure bicycle repair and sales operation.
“This industry provides people with optimism instead of pessimism.”
– Sam DeMarco, Council Representative at Large, Allegheny County, PA
Wolf has served generations of riders by surviving economic cycles, like the closing of the nearby steel mills, and changes to his own business model. Much like Wolf, the town of Coraopolis, about 15 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, is a survivor that is once again thriving thanks to a decade of natural gas development in the Marcellus shale – as well as the broader economic benefits of abundant domestic energy.
Despite its up-and-down past, the region today is experiencing significant growth. Information Technology jobs are up 18%, Transportation and Warehousing have grown about 12%, Arts, Entertainment and Recreation 11% and Mining, Quarrying, Oil and Gas Extraction are up 8% since 2013.
Area business owners will tell you that the opening of the Marcellus Shale for natural gas production in 2008 spurred strong and lasting growth in revenues, wages and land values. Moon Township, where Coraopolis is located, boasts an unemployment rate under 3%, and the median income was well over $70,000 annually (compared to about $60,000 nationally) in 2017. It doesn’t matter if your collar is blue or white, it seems everyone has an opportunity to earn a good living these days.
Dick Wolf, Coraopolis Bicycle – Coraopolis, Pennsylvania
“New industry benefits everyone here, and this region has really exploded over the past 20 years,” Wolf says. “This progress is good for all of our businesses. I have a lot of loyal customers from all over Western Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, and I am proud of the businesses here in town like mine that have survived for two and three generations.”
Standing in front of the shop, you see a steady flow of traffic go by, supporting a town on the rise. Located along the Ohio River, you can still feel the community’s steel and manufacturing roots even as its 21st-century economy shines through.
Nick Haden from Reserved Environmental Services grew up in Moon and describes what happened when his natural gas and oil services company began to expand. “At the time, our employees would say things like, ‘Thank you, this is going to be the best Christmas we have ever had.’ Hearing that from your employees means a lot.”
Haden’s company provides water recycling services to the natural gas and oil industry – an integral part of industry’s commitment to energy development that is safe for communities and the environment, while lowering emissions. Today his company has 90 employees and will soon open its third recycling plant – just one piece of the puzzle in a thriving economy.
- Supports 18,390 jobs – almost 5% of the district’s employment
- Adds more than $1.78 billion each year – 6% of the district’s total economy
Ann Flask came out of college with a criminology degree and worked as a fraud investigator for the banking industry. But like so many others, she experienced job loss. On a whim, she visited a job fair and met a recruiter for Pittsburgh’s local Steamfitters union. Soon after that, she became a welder, a job that today is in high demand as new manufacturing and infrastructure projects continue to be approved. This includes a multi-billion-dollar chemical plant being built in the area to turn natural gas into the building blocks for plastics. At the peak of the construction phase, the project is supporting an estimated 6,000 jobs.
“There was a buzz about this project, and we are all excited about the job creation, not just for the steamfitters but for everyone,” Flask says. “It’s been a great provider for me, and I am excited to be part of something that is going to provide for the long term.”
The challenge for the Steamfitters and other local businesses is how to best staff the jobs flowing into the region. With opportunity comes competition. Manufacturing, energy and other expanding industries in the region pay well. A competitive labor market increases wages even further. An Allegheny Conference on Community Development study, “Inflection Point,” projects 80,000 skilled workers will be needed to fill these high-paying jobs by 2025.
Local business owners, craft labor unions, educators and public officials are coming together to meet this challenge. Efforts are underway to build new training and apprentice programs, expand and retool university and community college curricula, and develop additional mentoring opportunities to build the skills needed across the area.
Hunter Truck Sales’ Mike Fischer (left) and Dustin McClanahan – Butler, Pennsylvania
One hour north of Moon township, leaders at Hunter Truck’s corporate headquarters needed qualified workers so badly they decided to build their own training center. The company has seen more than 40% growth since 2008. And it all started with a little gamble.
“About 10 years ago, our vice president of sales decided to buy 80 water trucks without any orders because he heard there was a real need in the industry,” says Nancy Hunter Mycka, one of the third-generation owners of the company. “We all thought he was crazy at the time, and then all but one of those trucks sold before they even arrived. And the last truck sold the same day it got here.”
Shale Revolution – and a Little Luck – Prove Timely for Hunter Truck
One hour north of Moon Township, leaders at Hunter Truck’s corporate headquarters needed qualified workers so badly they decided to build their own training center. The company has seen more than 40 percent growth since 2008. And it all started with a little gamble.
“About 10 years ago, our vice president of sales decided to buy 80 water trucks without any orders because he heard there was a real need in the [natural gas and oil] industry,” says Nancy Hunter Mycka, one of the third-generation owners of the company. “We all thought he was crazy at the time, and then all but one of those trucks sold before they even arrived. And the last truck sold the same day it got here.”
Hunter needed to attract new talent fast. They gave raises throughout the organization and then went to work recruiting during one of the largest expansions in the company’s 80-year history. Today the company has more than 1,000 employees, sells more than 3,000 trucks annually and maintains a network of garage/maintenance facilities that can service more than 10,000 trucks a year.
As manufacturing and exploration increased in the area, the company’s repair business also blossomed. “We went from fighting for every repair job to signing long-term repair contracts where we guarantee 24/7 service,” says Mycka. “Many of these trucks have more parts than an advanced jet fighter so it’s a complex job. We even have techs that work on site today.”
Trucking is so important in the region that the team claims that a CDL driver’s license can be as valuable as a Ph.D. these days.
Hunter needed to attract new talent fast. The company gave raises throughout the organization and then went to work recruiting during one of the largest expansions in its 80-year history. The team claims that a CDL driver’s license can be as valuable as a Ph.D. these days in Western Pennsylvania.
When you talk to politicians in Allegheny County and the greater area, they will tell you that opening the Marcellus Shale helped local residents’ weather the recession during the first decade of the 21st century and delivered hope to people who didn’t have it before.
“This industry provides people with optimism instead of pessimism,” says At-Large County Councilman Sam DeMarco. “Right now, the unemployment rate in Pittsburgh and Allegheny county is the lowest it’s been since we started recording it in 1976. That means thousands of residents have good sustaining jobs.”
And it goes beyond jobs. DeMarco says utility bills in the region have dropped sharply, helping seniors, low-income residents and other vulnerable groups. There are even unforeseen benefits like investments in new passenger terminals at Pittsburgh International Airport. He said the natural gas companies also re-invest in the community, funding projects like park and public space rehabilitation, new recreation projects, and improved roads and bridges.
Back in Coraopolis, a long-term customer brings his bicycle into Dick Wolf’s shop for a tune-up. A quick inspection shows a good deal of rust and a big job ahead. But much like the town he has loved for so long, Wolf shows a quiet resolve to keep moving forward. He patiently wheels the broken vehicle into the back room, confident it has a strong future under his steady hand and never-give-up approach.
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