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With jobs still top of mind in 2012, shale gas and the ‘creative class’ bring hope to struggling states

As we ring in the New Year and look towards the 2012 presidential election, it’s clear what issue remains top of mind: good American jobs.

A “good job” today is one that averages 30+ hours per week and comes with a regular paycheck and benefits from an employer, according to Jim Clifton, Chairman and CEO of Gallup and author of The Coming Jobs War. Labor economists call them “formal jobs.”

But with the national unemployment rate still hovering around 8.5 per cent, where on earth will these good jobs come from?

As it turns out, they may come from underground.

Clifton believes job creation starts with regional growth, sparked by innovation and entrepreneurship at the individual, town, city or university level, i.e., with the “creative class” – the 40 million Americans who are paid to think and to create for a living, as famously portrayed by social scientist Richard Florida. Scientists and engineers make up 14 per cent of that class of thinkers, and, according to the Martin Prosperity Institute, “experience a much lower rate of unemployment than other workers in both good times and bad.”

But when it comes to struggling industrial regions such as West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio, what can these thought leaders do to create more good jobs – jobs like theirs?

In the short term, The Herald-Dispatch writes, it makes sense to start building on what’s already available: untapped natural gas reserves along the Marcellus Shale.

West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin agrees. Gov. Tomblin’s state is currently competing with Ohio and Pennsylvania for the opportunity to build a world-class ethane cracker plant on state ground. The investment alone could create up to 12,000 jobs in West Virginia and reel in $729 million in wages and $95 million in tax revenues.

Crackers convert natural gas into ethylene, one of the basic chemical building blocks that goes into countless products we use every day, making chemical companies and their various downstream users some of the world’s biggest consumers (and producers) of natural gas.

And if Jim Clifton is right – that job growth begins with innovation at the regional level – then state leaders should look no further than the thousands of good jobs waiting patiently beneath their feet.

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