Corbett Puts His Money Where His Mouth Is, Delivers For Refining Business

Delaware County Times

If Gov. Tom Corbett keeps spending this much time in Marcus Hook, they’re going to have to start charging him an occupancy tax.

But if the state’s chief executive keeps putting his money — and the taxpayers’ — where his mouth is to make good on his pledge to make the region the “energy capital of the United States,” he’ll be welcomed with open arms.

Corbett led another phalanx of state and local officials back to the lower end of the county on Wednesday to complete something of a trifecta when it comes to the region’s critical refining business.

He also had a check for $15 million that will help secure at least part of the future of the iconic Sunoco refinery in Marcus Hook.

It was back in September that the company rocked the region — in particular the lower end of Delaware County — with the announcement of its intent to get out of the refining business. Buyers would be sought for both its Marcus Hook and South Philadelphia refineries. If they did not come forward, the sites would be shuttered. Two weeks later, the region took another economic haymaker when ConocoPhillips said it also was bailing on the money-losing refining business and idling its Trainer facility.

Thousands of jobs were at stake, and a way of life — a ticket to a solid, middle-class life — hung in the balance.

Ten months later, all three facilities have a future, as do all those employees.

First, Delta Air Lines announced its intention to purchase the Conoco facility in Trainer. It set up a subsidiary, Monroe Energy, to run the facility and refine jet fuel. The company expects to expand the site and eventually save billions on one of its biggest costs. The state is kicking in $30 million to the $180 million price tag, in the process winning concessions from the company that they will make capital investments in the facility and add new jobs.

Next up was Sunoco’s sprawling South Philadelphia refinery, one of the biggest facilities in the Northeast. The company, now out from under the command of Lynn Elsenhans and under the tutelage of Brian MacDonald, entered talks with the Carlyle Group on a joint venture to keep the facility operating. Again it was $25 million in state funds that helped seal the deal.

That left only Sunoco’s iconic Marcus Hook refinery, where Howard Pew started his venture more than a century ago.

The company had consistently indicated that it had not gotten a single offer for the Hook site. A $100,000 county study of potential uses for the facility hinted at a future outside of refining, perhaps tapping into the state’s booming Marcellus shale operations.

Enter Tom Corbett again, riding in on his white charger with another check in hand.

On Wednesday Braskem America, located right next door, announced its intent to purchase part of the Sunoco refinery in Marcus Hook. The move — helped in no small part by another $15 million in state money — will allow the firm, which specializes in the manufactures of plastics, to buy the chemical processing unit at the site. In the process, more than 200 solid jobs have been secured. And the company is committing to the future of the site, pledging to sink more than $50 million into capital improvements and adding more jobs. In a bit of perfect symmetry, some of those workers are likely to be among those who lost their jobs when Sunoco pulled the plug.

In the early days when the region was reeling from the 1-2 punch delivered by Sunoco and ConocoPhillips, a lot of voices were raised and fingers pointed at Harrisburg, at Corbett in particular, for not doing more and taking a more active role in seeking to secure the plants’ futures.

Less than a year later, Corbett has made good on his pledge to make Pennsylvania more business friendly, especially when it comes to the energy arena.

He was a key cog in a push by unions, along with local, state and U.S. House and Senate officials that put together a pretty impressive checklist.

Conoco: Saved.

Sunoco South Philly: Saved.

Sunoco Marcus Hook: At least partly saved.

Three for three. The Phillies should have that kind of batting average.

Of course it should be pointed out that — as it usually does — money talked in these deals. State funds helped cement the deal in all three cases. But in each case the state funding was made contingent on the companies not only sticking around, but growing and adding more jobs. Now it’s incumbent to hold them to those pledges.

Compared to where the region stood a few months ago, and the economic abyss that loomed, it’s a solid investment.

Come back any time, governor. Especially when you’ve got one of the big checks in your pocket.

Read more: