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Conference highlights we can make it in WV

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Kevin DiGregorio Kevin DiGregorio
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Kevin DiGregorio is the executive director of the Chemical Alliance Zone. CAZ is dedicated to attracting investments and creating high-paying jobs in West Virginia in a number of ways, including using resources from Marcellus Shale.

In his book, "Make It in America: The Case for Reinventing the Economy," Andrew Liveris, chairman and CEO of The Dow Chemical Co., suggests — no, argues — that reinvigorating America's manufacturing sector is the key to our nation's future success. How can we expect to have economic growth and prosperity if we are not making things? 

He is right, of course. And what's good for America is also good for West Virginia (and vice versa, as it turns out). That's why an upcoming event in Charleston — the Marcellus to Manufacturing M2M Ethane Development Conference — is important. Scheduled for March 20-21 at the Charleston Civic Center, the conference will provide a forum for individuals, companies and organizations in the public and private sector to pursue business opportunities that will help ignite West Virginia's manufacturing sector.

But some may be asking, "Where is the link between Marcellus and manufacturing?" Good question. I'd like to answer that by actually asking a slightly different but related question. Where does manufacturing begin, exactly?

There are a lot of answers to that, I would guess, but I'd like to mention two. First, it begins with innovation. If we are going to manufacture things — cars, household goods, computers and the like — we as a country need to be able to innovate. We need to be able to not only invent new products but also commercialize and sell them as well. That's true innovation.

In fact, in his book Liveris says, "That's because you cannot separate innovation from manufacturing. Where manufacturing goes, innovation inevitably follows." 

But manufacturing is more than just invention and innovation. In a more practical sense, it is about the actual act of crafting and assembling things, of taking raw materials and converting them into widgets and thingamajigs that society needs (think clothing, cars, and housing) and wants (think golf clubs, Keurig coffeemakers, and iPads). And where does that begin? With natural gas.

Natural gas (and to be accurate, also crude oil) is the starting point for all those widgets and thingamajigs you and I need or think we need. Ethane in natural gas is converted to ethylene in a chemical manufacturing facility known as a "cracker." That, in turn, is made into a host of other chemicals and plastics. Those chemicals and plastics are then formulated to turn out all those widgets and thingamajigs. 

Thus, manufacturing begins with natural gas and crude oil. It starts with fossil fuel formations like the Marcellus Shale. It passes through chemicals like ethane and ethylene and many more. And in the end, you have lots of products coming off of lots of assembly lines and lots of jobs to boot.

As Liveris writes, we need to make it in America. We also need to make it in West Virginia. And we have a chance to do that over the ensuing years, starting with the ethane in Marcellus shale. In the end, that's what the M2M Conference is all about: Making it in West Virginia.