AP NEWS

$6 billion project could transform Orange County

February 26, 2019

As Jefferson County saw more than $20 billion in industrial expansion over the past four years, Orange County residents sometimes felt left out. They saw that growth to the west — and similar development to the east in Louisiana — and wondered when their turn would come. It might be happening soon, in a big way.

Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. is considering a $5 billion to $6 billion expansion project somewhere in the region, and Orange County has been identified as a finalist. The company is said to be eyeing 1,700 acres by Chevron Phillips’ existing polyethylene plant on FM 1006.

The project would convert the natural gas liquid ethane into ethylene, which is the building block of most plastics, such as the most common one, polyethylene. Polyethylene, which is manufactured here as pellets, is used in packaging for many consumer goods, such as milk jugs, bags, detergent bottles, etc.

Something this big would be a game-changer for Orange County, and one of the biggest single projects anywhere on the Gulf Coast.

It would generate 3,500 construction jobs at its peak with an average salary of $90,000. The number of permanent jobs is not known yet, but a similar project in Baytown helps support 1,000 permanent employees and 2,000 contractors. The project clearly stands on its own, but it would also have a big spin-off effect in supporting other jobs and businesses.

With an impact like this, public officials in Orange County should have one focus: Working with the company in every way possible to help make this project a reality. Any meeting or document that’s requested should be provided, and any phone call should be promptly returned.

Tax abatement usually figures into projects like this, and Orange County officials should be competitive with their counterparts in other potential locations. Abatements should always be studied carefully, but a project this big would provide enormous long-term benefits for the county. It is worth short-term incentives.

Orange County has struggled with a flat tax base and population for years. A project like this could kickstart the turnaround that county residents have been hoping for. In the end, Chevron Phillips will make its own decision about where to put this plant. But the Orange site looks like a good fit, and company officials must know that it would be welcome here.