Boom Town: What Brings Thousands of Jobs to One Ohio Town?

10,000 jobs are coming to Steubenville, Ohio.

ByABC News
October 18, 2011, 12:36 PM

Oct. 18, 2011— -- Steubenville, Ohio, may not look like a city sitting on a multi-billion dollar industry. Unemployment here reached 15 percent in 2010, and a now-shuttered steel mill -- which was once the lifeline of the Steubenville economy -- is now just a painful reminder of what used to be.

While the old way is gone for good -- a new way has already changed lives.

Two huge shale formations -- the Marcellus and Utica -- lay underneath a five-state region. Steubenville sits right on the epicenter of the Marcellus formation, ready to absorb all the new positions needed to open new and repurposed old wells.

While the formations have been around for centuries, only in the past 10 years have people realized how deep they run. In the past decade the area has been prepped for drilling, which is expected to begin in Steubenville this spring.

With the new influx of job opportunities, many are relocating to Steubenville, hoping to land a well-paying, stable job. Louis McGowan, a Navy veteran who served in the war in Afghanistan, was born in the area but left for Texas in search of work. The new jobs boom allowed him to do something he never believed he'd be able to do, come home. He hopes to be one of the first in line when drilling begins.

In a matter of months, rigs will begin to dot the landscape, and current and former residents -- like McGowan -- hope the money will line their pockets.

More than 300 new jobs have already come to the Steubenville area. And as many as 10,000 more are expected in the next three years. If jobs keep growing at this pace, every adult in Steubenville could be working by April.

"I rolled the dice with everything I had," McGowan said. "It's either make it or bust."

But the environmental impact of fracking -- the process of injecting sand, water and a chemical gel to crack open the shale -- is controversial. Environmentalists say the action of pulling natural gas from the ground can spoil groundwater. But it's a risk the people in Steubenville are willing to take.

Hope stretches throughout Steubenville, a city nestled deep in Appalachian Ohio. Even into the nearby hills of the Wetherell family's property, where family members hope natural gas below ground will mean new life for them.

Their land, once a dairy farm, will soon be leased to a drilling company for thousands of dollars.

"It's peace of mind ... knowing that when the money comes we'll be able to put money away for college for the kids, pay off some debts," said Monica Wetherell.

No one in Steubenville can remember the last time anyone heard of a job that paid as much as $77,000 a year coming to town, but those jobs are coming. There could be more than 200,000 of them in Ohio in the next few years.

The boom doesn't end with the drilling jobs. There were bright spots visible all over the town. A few weeks ago, Scaffidi's restaurant needed only had 25 seats. Now, there are seven times more people coming in for lunch. The boom is also expected to mean more businesses, more teachers and more hotels. Everyone seems to be cashing in.

Jim Berry's company ships sand to the drill sites that just moved to the area. He hopes to employ as many as 80 local residents in a year's time.

How badly does this area need the jobs? "It needs it really bad," said John Weber of the Ohio Workforce Department. "The whole Appalachian area needs it. The state of Ohio needs it really bad."

So do the McGowan's.

"I just want to work. That's about it. ... I want to work."