A modest ceremony took place Tuesday afternoon for the future "Moran Industries Inc. Natural Gas Park."
The West End parcel was once the Kennedy-King Public Housing Complex, but the apartments have been leveled and the ground is being readied for use by M-I SWACO, a company with a worldwide presence specializing in supporting and finding solutions for the natural gas and oil industries.
Watsontown-based Moran Industries is investing $11 million to custom build its industrial park for M-I SWACO.
Officials prepare for a ceremonial groundbreaking for the M-I SWACO/Moran Industries Inc. Natural Gas Park at the former Kennedy/King apartments Tuesday.
The goal is to gain possession of the land from the city and have construction underway by November on a large lay-down yard and two rail-served buildings - one a 50,000-square foot structure, the other about 31,000 square feet.
The groundbreaking featured local officials, the owners and staff of Moran Industries and M-I SWACO officials, among them Tom Heinz, senior district manager of the northeast region.
Heinz said there is an estimated 100-year supply of natural gas between New York and West Virginia and predicted the area will be a central hub for the northern part of the state within 10 years.
Jeffrey J. Stroehmann Jr., Moran vice president of operations, opened the ceremony by identifying a litany of local officials who helped make the event possible.
Among those singled out were former state Rep. Steven Cappelli, who helped secure the site's Keystone Opportunity Zone designation and former city Mayor Mary Wolf, who first approached the Moran family about the site's potential.
"We would not be here were it not for the support of all of our elected officials, friends and partners," Stroehmann said.
Many present, Stroehmann suggested the project is another sign the city and area is "on the rebound."
John Moran Jr., president of Moran Industries, described the arrival of the natural gas industry as "a wonderful thing" that will both create "family-sustaining jobs" and lead people to finally "really believe the clouds (have) parted."
He likened the gas industry to "a blessing from God" and predicted a trickle-down effect and creation of new wealth unlike anything seen here since the long-ago lumber era.
Heinz said the gas industry brings to the area "unlimited" business and employment opportunities.
According to Heinz, M-I SWACO initially will employ about 20 to 30 people at or working out of the Moran site, but he predicted the numbers will grow.
"I won't quote you figures," he said, "but it is going to grow."
Among the employment opportunities are skilled positions for field engineers.
Those hired locally will be those with both high school and college degrees, who will train before going out to well sites, according to Heinz.
Mayor Gabriel J. Campana was also present and during his brief remarks said he believes the local government's role is "to create a positive climate for entrepreneurs."
"You're taking the risk," he said, "but believe me, it's a low risk."