The fastest-growing slice of the U.S. manufacturing sector today is not being driven by automation or cutting-edge robotics but instead by cheap, plentiful natural gas unleashed by fracking shale deposits.
From 2011 to August 2014, the American Chemistry Council, the trade association of the chemical industry, tallied 196 announcements of new chemical plants or upgrades to existing ones in the United States, with investments totaling $124 billion. Huge petrochemical companies such as Saudi Basic Industries, Dow Chemical, and Chevron Phillips Chemical Company are among the investors. Texas is undergoing the largest expansion of petrochemical manufacturing since the 1960s, and other gas-rich parts of the country, including Pennsylvania and the Ohio Valley, are benefiting too.
“Ten years ago everyone was talking about projects in the Middle East,” says Fernando Musa, CEO of Braskem America, a Philadelphia-based subsidiary of the Brazilian thermoplastic resin leader. “Now if you go to industry forums in the U.S., Europe, or Asia, everyone is talking about investing here in the U.S.”