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Workers Aim for "Piece of the Pie" in Tax Break Plan

March 7, 2011

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Lawmakers are considering extending a manufacturing tax credit to facilities that process natural gas to make things like feedstocks for the chemical industry. That seems like a promising spin-off from Marcellus shale drilling. However, many contend that that tax break should require the companies to hire local workers to build the facilities.

Keith Hughes, business manager with Ironworkers Local 549, Wheeling, says half a billion dollars worth of that kind of construction is within 10 miles of his home, but almost all of the workers are coming from out of state.

"People from Texas, Louisiana or Oklahoma do not spend their money in your local community, do not pay property tax. If they don't want to follow that jobs act, then they don't get the tax break."

Hughes says it's only fair that if the companies want a subsidy to build in West Virginia, they should be required to hire in West Virginia.

Some in the industry have said out-of-state workers are being brought in because few West Virginians are qualified. Hughes denies that is the case for the processing facilities. He says that work is no different than what has been done for years at chemical plants and power stations.

"It's no different than DuPont in Charleston or AEP's power plant. Anything that's done on that processing facility, be it a compressor station or a cracker unit, we have the capability of doing that."

Hughes says the local-employee requirement would allow companies to go outside the state if qualified local workers cannot be found in a few days.

West Virginia has a long history of missing out on the economic benefits of the state's natural resources. Hughes says construction jobs are a good place to start to make sure that does not happen again - because, he points out, those paychecks multiply many times in the economy.

"Your check is cashed at the bank; you go to the grocery store; you go to the gas station. Those people turn that dollar over and buy more goods. On a project with a $1 million payroll, that's turning $7 million into your community."

A key vote on the tax credit plan is expected early this week.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV