Opportunity is defined as a good position, chance, or prospect for advancement or success.

In accordance to the above definition the Marcellus Shale geological formation is providing tremendous economic opportunity in this region.

TRAINER AND TRAINEE—Rochelle Oaks, PhD of the Oaks Group and Anthony Terry finalize assessment procedures. (Photo by Diane I. Daniels)

“Since 2007 opportunities in natural gas have prompted over 100 companies to expand their exploration, drilling or service operations within the region,” said Alexander Nichols, president and CEO of the Western Pennsylvania Minority Supplier Development Council. “African-Americans need education, training and capital to fully take advantage of the entrepreneurial and job opportunities the industry offers.” He pointed out that because the industry is so new to the area that companies are bringing in outside workers. His organization has been conducting workshops on Marcellus Shale as a way to introduce his members to opportunities and as a way for them to make new contacts and connections.

Last year the focus of the WPMSDC annual opportunity fair was energy related. The theme was “The Power of Diversity and the Energy it Creates.”

“Our goal was to encourage corporate executives, buyers from local, state, federal government agencies, and minority business owners to embrace the new and exciting changes occurring in Western Pennsylvania through the energy industry,” he said.

Nichols is also involved in the August 1 event called Gaining a Foothold on Opportunity sponsored by EQT, Halliburton, Shell and the Marcellus Shale Coalition. The purpose of the half day of activities held in the South Pointe area is to educate prospective suppliers on upcoming opportunities available with the sponsoring companies and or their prime suppliers; to provide a forum for prospective suppliers to learn more about how to do business with the oil and gas and Marcellus Shale industry; to connect suppliers to buyers for specific commodities and services and to develop new relationships with suppliers in the region where EQT, Halliburton and Shell have current and planned facilities.

With a fluctuating area unemployment rate of 6.6 and 6.8 between March and June 2012 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and according to 2010 American Community Survey data from the Census Bureau an estimated 14.7 African-American unemployment rate, the question is, is the Marcellus Shale project going to provide employment and entrepreneurial prospects for all?

Two local businesses with hopes to provide diversity in one of the largest unconventional natural gas reserves in the world are the Mentors Community Wealth Building Initiative and the Oaks Group. To date, they have trained and qualified18 African-American males to receive their certifications to work in the oil and gas industry. Seven of the trainees have been hired and four people are awaiting job offers.

Kris Kirk, president of MCWB believes that as Pittsburgh’s region profits from Marcellus Shale gas production, long term jobs and economic development opportunities are abundant for qualified candidates. As a result she and Rochelle Oaks prepare African-American males 21 years and older looking for a high paying job with good benefits for equipment operators, drillers, drilling and service rig hands, roughnecks, rig hands and well tenders. The six weeks course, according to Kirk prepares participants for a variety of jobs, teaches general knowledge, safety and gas well tending with industry experts offering personal insight in their fields of expertise.

“I got a great job within two weeks of graduating,” said former student 28 year old Anthony Terry. “I love what I do.” As a flow back operator for Tetra Technologies based out of Woodland, Texas, Terry noted that the least he makes is $50,000 a year. While addressing a new class of Community Wealth Building Initiative students he emphasized that the hours are long and the work is hard. The Beltzhoover native credits the program for changing his life. “When I came here I was looking for a career and ready for a change. I was fresh out of jail, and knew I wanted to do things differently.” He outlined that the course consist of team building strategies, conflict resolution, career planning, job interviewing, industry technology, safety, maintenance and operations of gas wells and piping. “These ladies prepare you for everything. Now I am doing what I want to do. I’m a good father, a role model to my family, got God in my life; I’m a hardworking man paying taxes and got my credit straight.”

With the goal to help the participants maximize their power by tapping into their fullest potential. Oaks and her staff conduct the life skills, personality, team building, stereotypical behavior and anger management portion of the community based wealth building initiative. “Recognizing that the program participants are young with not a lot of experience, we aim to sharpen and strengthen the survival tools they take into the workforce,” Oaks said. The Oaks Groups believes in the transformation of perceptions processes and people, she said. “People don’t change unless they modify how they think, their values and beliefs. We help provide them options.”

Working together since the beginning of the program, Kirk and Oaks, both certified women business owners share the philosophy that the Marcellus Shale development is a gold mine to this area.

“I’m excited to be a part of this initiative because it focuses on preparing African-American males for employment,” said Oaks. “When we get men, who are supposed to be the head of the family straight, and filled with a sense of pride and dignity we can change our community one fiber at a time.”

(For more information on the Community Wealth Building Initiative call 412-322-1907. To learn more about the Marcellus Shale project, entrepreneur opportunities or job possibilities visit the Marcellus Shale Coalition website at http://www.marcelluscoalition.org).

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