Joseph Sites found bleak job prospects in Western Pennsylvania when he graduated in 2000 from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in chemical engineering.
“I had to uproot myself and my family to North Dakota to get back to Western Pennsylvania,” said Sites, 35, a Bethel Park native whose career also took him to Houston, New Orleans, Mexico and Dallas.
Then, the natural gas boom began here, bringing not only drillers eager to tap the bounty in the Marcellus shale but support companies such as Horizontal Wireline Services of North Huntingdon.
The Westmoreland County company, which Sites started in 2010, runs wires into gas and oil wells to help with extraction.
On Tuesday, it will serve as the backdrop for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s latest visit to Western Pennsylvania. Before a fundraiser Downtown, the former Massachusetts governor will speak about growing middle class jobs and the energy industry at a rally at Horizontal Wireline Services.
Economists say companies such as Sites’ demonstrate how one industry can have huge effects on a region.
“This is the kind of a spinoff that has positive economic ramifications,” said Robert Strauss, a Carnegie Mellon University professor of economics and public policy. “The money is being used in the community and for the most part, stays in the region.”
Sites said the company employs more than 100 people who work in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia and, most recently, Texas.
“That is a far cry from when we started,” said Michael Cameron, 31, of Upper St. Clair, a Beaver County native who joined the company in October 2010. “It was a very small company; there were about maybe 20 or 30 of us.”
Sites said Cameron is a good example of many of the employees who have flourished.
“He basically started at the bottom and has worked his way up to crew chief,” he said.
Sites said starting salaries range from $60,000 to $80,000. After two or three years, salaries often exceed $100,000.
Cameron said his crew of six or seven workers spend weeks to months at a site.
“We spend money at the local hotels and mom-and-pop motels, buy groceries, eat at the family-style restaurants,” he said.
Matthew Marlin, economics professor at Duquesne University, said the phenomenon is called the regional multiplier effect.
“Horizontal Wireline is one step removed from the shale company. They profit and grow, the employees buy homes, settle into the community, spend money and so on,” Marlin said.