OPINION: Reindustrialization Project presents enormous opportunity for Ohio workers, families and communities

Throughout Ohio, communities have experienced job loss and deepening economic hardship with changes to energy production and declines in manufacturing over the last several decades. Here in Southern Ohio, we’re at the center of this challenge as energy demand and production shifts from fossil resources.

Ultimately, it is the workers, their families and their communities that shoulder the negative impacts of the loss of union jobs and the economic downturn that comes with industry declines and shuttered plants. As we continue to progress into a 21st-century economy, however, there is enormous opportunity knocking at our doorstep: and that is the Ohio Valley Green Energy Manufacturing Initiative (Ohio Valley GEM).

By launching a new era of clean power generation and manufacturing, the Ohio Valley GEM can reinvigorate these areas that have been left behind for too long. The foundational project of the Ohio Valley GEM will be the reindustrialization of the former Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant (PORTS) near Piketon, Ohio. The facility, which at one time was a major employer in our region, ceased operations more than two decades ago and now sits as a federal liability, emblematic of our region’s struggles.

Workers in our region played an historic role in winning the Cold War, answering our nation’s call to build the Piketon uranium enrichment plant and an energy infrastructure that is second to none. This site and its workforce helped power our country for generations. By transforming the site to a clean energy and manufacturing hub, the regional workforce will have the opportunity to step up once again – this time to help in our nation’s fight for energy security, clean energy production, and economic vibrancy in struggling areas.

Once reindustrialized, the site will become a Hydrogen Hub with an Integrated Energy System and Manufacturing complex that will create an “all of the above” energy strategy for decarbonizing power generation, manufacturing, and transportation. It will create good-paying union jobs and will be able to meet demands of the current and future clean energy economy.

In addition to PORTS reindustrialization, the Ohio Valley GEM as a whole has the opportunity to bolster local economies and jobs throughout the Ohio Valley – from southern Ohio, along the Ohio River through West Virginia, and up to Pittsburgh. Coal fired power plants in the region that have been decommissioned or slated for deactivation can serve as ‘satellite spokes’ to the hydrogen hub by converting facilities with suitable infrastructure to generate power using clean hydrogen.

Organized labor is in strong support of this initiative. In fact, we are partnered with and working alongside industry, the reindustrialization effort’s lead organization: the Southern Ohio Diversification Initiative, a nonprofit, community improvement corporation that serves as the U.S. Department of Energy-designated community reuse organization for the PORTS facility – and Ohio University, which is providing a wide array of vital technical support to this effort.

Organized labor is also ready to get to work. The Ohio Valley GEM project is shovel ready, and is guided by an in-place, functioning public-private partnership that will not leave labor or host communities behind.

With the Ohio Valley GEM, we are positioned – right here in Southern Ohio and the Ohio Valley – to be a nation-leading example of growing good-paying union jobs, increasing economic stability in struggling areas, and significantly contributing to the revitalization of the U.S. energy and manufacturing sectors. We can do all of this while also responding to climate change and enhancing American energy security.

We are on the verge of making this a reality. It is up to us – the people who live and work in and care about our part of Ohio – to raise our voices. As organized labor, we are doing all we can to instill confidence about the project’s workforce. We encourage all of our region’s community leaders to voice their support for this generational opportunity.

By Bobby Cole and Dan Shirey

This writer’s opinion is their own and not the opinion of this newspaper

Bobby Cole is the Business Manager of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 577, and Dan Shirey is the Business Manager of IBEW Local 575. Both of their unions are based in Portsmouth.

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