By Mark Kelly
Like most everything else during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, WPC 2021 — the annual meeting of the IHS Markit World Petrochemical Conference, scheduled for March 8-12 — will be different. But preparing to conduct the conference virtually has only redoubled the WPC’s commitment to providing an outstanding program that facilitates valuable networking opportunities.
The online platform that enables attendance is designed for optimal interactivity throughout the conference. In addition to a full slate of presentations and panel discussions on key topics of interest to petrochemical and chemical industry professionals and partners, WPC 2021 offers participants access to downloadable “expert sessions” providing deep dives into individual industry products, topics and markets, including data and other special intelligence in areas such as supply/demand and pricing.
While covering a broad range of topics, the program is very much in keeping with the theme of WPC 2021: “Chemical Renaissance: Building Resilience, Agility and Innovation in an Enhanced Global Role.” The emphasis on the future — most specifically issues and opportunities related to innovation and sustainability — is not only appropriate, but also provides a source of optimism and possibility as individuals, companies and communities plan for economic growth in a post-COVID world.
That’s the view of David Rodgers, vice president of economic development for the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce. Long a leading hub of chemical industry growth, Mobile continues to build on that foundation with a rapidly emerging emphasis on the growth industries of the future.
“When you look at sustainability,” Rodgers says, “you have to factor in the community’s investment in an integrated transportation infrastructure, successful partnerships with utilities and, in our case, assets like the Port of Mobile. Along with that, the diversity of our manufacturing base contributes to the strength and sustainability of the overall economy.
“We’re looking at the long term.”
Rodgers points to several indicators of Mobile’s commitment to innovation: a flowering of innovative public and private programs to encourage innovation-based entrepreneurship; locally-driven advances in cybersecurity research; the presence of the manufacturing center of excellence administered by Bishop State Community College; and support among established local industry leaders — Austal USA, Evonik, Airbus, AM/NS Calvert — advances such as making printing supplies for use by medical facilities in producing such needed supplies as face shields and medical headgear.
“We have local startups solving global manufacturing problems,” says Rodgers. “We’re also fortunate to have a strong, diverse base of companies in chemicals and other fields that are as committed to innovation as we are.”
Part of Mobile’s commitment to the future of the chemical industry is the MAST Initiative. The acronym denotes the four communities in the 60-mile corridor that runs north from the Port of Mobile: McIntosh, Axis, Saraland and Theodore.
The MAST Corridor is home to more than 25 chemical companies. Along with a skilled labor force, a thoroughly integrated transportation infrastructure, a robust economy and immediate proximity to the Port of Mobile, the corridor provides an ideal platform for future growth.
All told, the MAST Corridor’s chemical industry employs over 4,000 people, generates combined annual payrolls of about $500 million and has an economic impact of $1.9 billion annually. The corridor is served by the nation’s 11th-largest port, 1,300 miles of inland waterways and five Class 1 railroads that intersect at the Port of Mobile.
The MAST Initiative is a collaboration between the Mobile Chamber, Alabama Power, the Alabama State Port Authority and leaders of state and local industry. This year’s conference marks the third time MAST has been a sponsor of the WPC. Such collaborative efforts underscore the commitment to working with longtime industry partners to ensure long-term economic growth, according to Patrick Murphy, vice president of Alabama Power’s Mobile Division.
“We place a very high value on our relationship with the Mobile Chamber and our other partners in the MAST Initiative,” Murphy says. “Like us, they are committed to the future of the chemical industry, and appreciative to the WPC for its efforts to ensure that we’re all better prepared for the challenges and opportunities ahead.”