Shell Cracker Benefits Spreading to Penn College and Throughout State

Tom Shepstone
Natural Gas NOW


Shell Polymers, the plastics division of Shell has invested in Penn College, a decision showing just massive the benefits of the company’s new cracker.

An editorial in the Williamsport Sun-Gazette the other day brought to my attention something I missed last year. It was that Shell Polymers had invested $250,000 in Penn College to support their plastics program. This is an obvious side benefit from Shell’s massive cracker project in Western Pennsylvania. It shows how the benefits of the Shell cracker are already extending throughout Pennsylvania before the facility is even complete. It also demonstrates what an incredible resource the Commonwealth has in Penn College.


Photo: Penn College

I am a huge fan of Penn College and wrote about it here and here after visiting the college at the invitation of State Senator Gene Yaw. It has been at the leading edge of advanced vocational education for a long time. Seeing the place in person was exciting, because it immediately became clear just how much can be done to forge rewarding careers and build up Pennsylvania if we simply grasp the opportunity natural gas has represented for us.

Penn College has seized that opportunity, as the Williamsport Sun-Gazette indicated yesterday (emphasis added):

There is a giant growing in Beaver County in western Pennsylvania.

It’s Shell’s Pennsylvania Petrochemicals Complex that will process ethane from shale gas.

There is a giant that already exists in Williamsport.

It’s the Pennsylvania College of Technology plastics program that has graduated nearly 500 students in the past 25 years. The program has a national reputation for preparing students to work in the plastics industry. Penn College is one of only six institutions nationwide offering plastics degrees accredited by the Engineering Technology Accreditation Commission of ABET.

The plastics industry employs 50,000 people in the state with a payroll of $2.5 billion. And many more will be needed when Shell completes its complex.

So call this the perfect intersection between business needs and educational offerings. The plastics industry has a need. Penn College has the unique means to fill that need.

And that marriage gave birth to the Shell Polymers Rotational Molding Center of Excellence that was recently dedicated at Penn College. The project was made possible by a $250,000 commitment from Shell Polymers.

The money allowed the purchase of machinery necessary for training at the center and paid for updates to the plastics lab at the school.

Given the track record of Penn College, Shell has made a sound investment. And it’s an investment that only bolsters the school’s strong point — educational offerings that are relevant to existing work force needs.

Two giants just got stronger.

This was the first I heard of the Shell investment (or paid enough attention to it). It is quite remarkable and here’s some of what Penn College said last year about it:

The funding will enable Penn College — which also operates the Plastics Innovation & Resource Center (PIRC) to assist plastics companies with research and development and the training of incumbent workers — to enhance and upgrade the academic and research lab that will now be known as the Shell Polymers Rotational Molding Center of Excellence…

Skilled manufacturing professionals are in high demand. A growing number of retirements — and fewer qualified workers to replace the retirees — is an ongoing concern for American manufacturing. It’s expected that 3.5 million manufacturing job openings over the next decade will have only 2 million trained/qualified workers available to fill them, according to Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute.

The plastics industry is no exception, requiring a mix of skilled professionals with college degrees and process technicians with manufacturing skills — acquired more through training and less through formal plastics education — to mitigate its manufacturing gap.

Recognizing the opportunity this represents for students, Penn College addresses these needs both through its academic offerings — a bachelor’s degree in plastics and polymer engineering technology and an associate degree in plastics and polymer technology — as well as the training it offers to incumbent workers through the PIRC.

The college also hopes to play a role in providing skilled employees for Shell Chemical Appalachia’s multibillion-dollar petrochemical (“ethane cracker”) complex under construction less than 250 miles west of the Penn College campus in Potter Township, Beaver County. The facility will employ 600 workers to produce ethylene, which is used in products ranging from food packaging to automotive parts.

The crucial rotational molding industry produces items that are too thick for injection or blow molding processes. Penn College has the capacity to grow its plastics programs and intends to do so with a continuing focus on providing the finest education and training opportunities to students and incumbent workers. In the next three years, the college anticipates that 150 students will receive hands-on training on the new rotational molder, and at least 100 incumbent workers are expected to participate in hands-on seminars at the PIRC, where 45 research-and-development projects will be completed for plastics firms over the same period.

In addition, the college conducts outreach to middle and high school students regarding opportunities in the plastics industry.

Each year, Penn College hosts a Science Festival for more than 1,500 area fifth-graders. SPE’s PlastiVan Program, a mobile initiative aimed at educating and exciting young people about the vast opportunities in the plastics industry, has been part of the festival the past two years. The college intends to continue this focus by inviting plastics companies to participate in the annual event.

For more about the plastics academic majors offered at Penn College, visit

More on the Plastics Innovation & Resource Center — which serves the education, training, and research-and-development needs of plastic processors, resin suppliers, mold builders and equipment manufacturers — is available at

It’s taking something on the order of 6,000 workers just to build the Shell cracker and, as noted here a few days ago, many of those workers will return every three years for plant retooling and upgrades, while 600 people will get great jobs working there after it’s completed. Many will be trained by Penn College some 250 miles to the east. Talk about petrochemical opportunities! They are staring us in the face and they’re the direct result of our shale gas revolution.

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