Between the late 1700s and late 1800s, Pennsylvania became the center of the energy universe. The development of coal, then the discovery of oil and the first natural gas well created unprecedented economic opportunity — for energy businesses and for the energy-intensive manufacturers who relied on those heat, power and fuel sources.
Industrial producers of all kinds flocked here, which over time delivered the world’s full spectrum of materials — glass, steel, aluminum, paper, chemicals and coatings. Clustered around them were the makers of the tools, machines and equipment needed to make those products — and the innovations that followed.
Now, the 21st century chapter of that story is unfolding, and it’s an even bigger opportunity. With our natural gas and natural gas liquids, we again have an abundant and economical resource, but that is just one ingredient for growth. Today, there are other important assets that can drive the world’s next industrial revolution: Industry 4.0. It’s a data-driven, automated and environmentally sustainable future of manufacturing. It will shape how we make the materials, chemicals and finished products that contribute in countless ways to the high quality of life we enjoy.
Our region is uniquely positioned to be the global center of Industry 4.0 because we have all the right ingredients to build it, including:
Infrastructure and sites. The decline in older, heavy manufacturing — not to mention the closure of old power plants over the past decade — has yielded numerous brownfield locations where the manufacturers of the future can be built. Rail, highway and water transportation are here, all in efficient proximity to major domestic markets and export channels.
Those assets, combined with our vast hydrocarbon reserves, are unique in this world. We can leverage them to drive advanced manufacturing’s future and extend our reputation for leadership across a diverse economy that includes energy, health care, biosciences, software, materials and more.
This opportunity carries risk: that we settle for the status quo of below-average economic growth and low-to-no population growth. That threatens our ability to fund the infrastructure needs, social services, cultural amenities and community development needs of the Pittsburgh region we love. Let’s not settle for status quo.
Morgan O’Brien is president and CEO of Peoples Natural Gas Co. and chair of the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce.
Article by The Pittsburgh Business Times