By Jason Cato
Lue Ann Pawlick never envisioned companies connected with oil and gas beating a path to Alta Vista Business Park when it broke ground in tiny Fallowfield, Washington County, in 2001.
Today, three of the five companies in Alta Vista work in the industry. An energy company is set to start construction in the spring, and at least one more is close to signing a deal to locate there.
“We’re trying to keep it a mixed-use business park, but we have to recognize the oil and gas industry is the biggest game in town right now,” said Pawlick, executive director of the Middle Monongahela Industrial Development Association. “They are the ones driving demand.”
Ten years ago, Fort Worth-based Range Resources Corp. drilled the first Marcellus shale well in Washington County. Now the county — which dubs itself “Energy Capital of the East” — is home to about 1,000 wells, the most in Pennsylvania.
In that time, county property tax revenue increased more than 50 percent, to about $40 million annually. In the past three years, about 220 development projects added nearly $1.7 billion in capital investment for an energy-fueled economy that once relied on farming, coal and steel.
“No one knew Marcellus shale would come, but we were ready for something big to happen,” said Jeff Kotula, president of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce. “It is instilled in us by county leaders that they want projects that continue to bring growth.”
Such projects are more evident in the northern part of the county, near Pittsburgh, where there is rampant development of neighborhoods, shopping centers and office spaces in places such as Peters, Cecil and Canonsburg.
Southpointe, a sprawling office park in Cecil that opened in 1993, is the prime example of that growth, with more than 300 companies and an estimated 11,000 employees.