Hampton Roads economy needs the Atlantic Coast Pipeline

Published 10:14 am Wednesday, December 21, 2016

by Teresa Beale

As executive director of the Franklin-Southampton Area Chamber of Commerce, I am motivated each and every day by our mission to improve the overall economy and quality of life in the Franklin-Southampton area. A key part of this mission is stimulating industrial growth and bringing more good-paying jobs to our community.

At the Chamber, I work with local companies and professionals to nurture our business climate, and I also work with our colleagues in local economic development offices to attract new businesses to the Franklin-Southampton area. When businesses make decisions about where to locate, they are looking for a solid transportation network, a skilled and well-trained workforce, and a great quality of life. They are also looking for access to reliable, affordable energy.

No business wants to set up shop in an area that lacks a consistent and stable supply of energy. That’s too much uncertainty. No business wants to open its doors in a location where energy is too expensive. That’s bad for the bottom line. They want access to a supply of energy that is there at all times, can be counted upon no matter what, and that won’t make their operations cost prohibitive. This is where the Atlantic Coast Pipeline comes in.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline, as many know, is a proposed underground natural gas pipeline that will bring domestically produced natural gas from Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia to consumers in Virginia and North Carolina. The need for the pipeline is urgent. Our existing pipelines are operating at full capacity and are unable to support major new economic development. If we’re going to continue to grow and attract new employers to our region, we need new infrastructure and new supplies of natural gas.

During the last few winters — the “Polar Vortex” of 2013-14 and the extreme cold of 2014-15 — local natural gas utilities actually had to suspend service to a number of major industrial customers in the Hampton Roads area to ensure that homes did not lose heat during a period of intense demand on their system. That is a huge warning sign. It demonstrated very clearly that our existing pipelines are overstressed and unable to keep up with growing demand. We need to address this challenge, and we need to address it now.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline will do that. It will provide our region with affordable, reliable supply of natural gas we need to continue growing and opening new doors of economic opportunity.

The benefits of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline extend far beyond the crucial role it will play in bringing new employers to our area and creating good jobs. For one, more than 8,000 workers will be employed during its construction. And then there’s the property tax benefit for every locality that hosts a portion of the pipeline. Here in Southampton County, it is estimated that we will receive nearly $4 million from 2018-2025, just for having the pipeline in our community. Suffolk stands to gain close to $6.5 million during the same period. That’s new revenue — gained without having to raise taxes — that can fund pay raises for teachers and sheriffs, improve our classrooms with new technology, and help build new roads. These are the kinds of investments that improve the quality of life for everyone in our community and have the added benefit of making Southampton County a more attractive place for businesses to locate.

We can’t grow our economy and create good jobs without investing in new energy infrastructure like the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. In order to grow and prosper, our local economy needs this new source of reliable and affordable energy. That’s why the Franklin-Southampton Area Chamber of Commerce joins Governor McAuliffe, the entire Hampton Roads General Assembly delegation and hundreds of businesses and organizations from across Virginia in supporting this commonsense, and long overdue, “jobs pipeline.”

TERESA BEALE is executive director of the Franklin-Southampton Area Chamber of Commerce. Contact her at 562-4900 or teresa@fsachamber.