UPDATE: Delegation from China in West Virginia, governor says

Published: Nov. 9, 2017 at 1:17 AM EST
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UPDATE 11/30/17 @ 8:33 p.m.

Gov. Jim Justice says a delegation of 28 people from China is in West Virginia, working to solidify plans for a memorandum of understanding that has the potential to create a more than $80 billion energy investment in West Virginia during the next 20 years.

According to Justice, a Republican, the group is made of up of people from China Energy and the Chinese government. He says Thursday they spent time in Morgantown, including West Virginia University, as they work to make the shale and chemical manufacturing projects a reality.

On Nov. 9, it was announced that China Energy Investment Corporation Limited signed an agreement with the West Virginia Department of Commerce on an $83.7 billion plan to invest in shale gas development and chemical manufacturing projects in West Virginia.

Justice said that the delegation will be in town for one to two weeks going to a "multitude of places" and he truly believes that this project will be come a reality.

The governor said he spent time with the delegation Thursday and they will continue to travel around the state in the following days.

The MOU is not necessarily legally binding, but the governor says it's important to look at the positive in this announcement. State Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher went to China to work on the deal when President Trump went to Asia in early November.

Thrasher said that the potential investment is so large that officials don't even have a grasp on a number.

UPDATE 11/13/17 @ 6:55 p.m.

It's a deal that West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice says is incredible for the Mountain State and a step in the right direction for boosting the economy and putting people back to work.

"There has been incredible things happen to West Virginia," Justice said. "We're truly on our way, and we're doing what I believe is the right thing and the right thing for our citizens. It gives us hope, it gives us jobs, it gives us real life."

He's referring to a $83.7 billion investment is a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that promises to bring that amount to West Virginia during the next 20 years in the form of shale gas and manufacturing projects.

"For once, West Virginia is not standing there holding the bag with nothing in it," Justice said in a news conference Monday.

It was the first time Justice spoke publicly about the deal since it was announced Thursday. He, along with State Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher, spoke about the deal and the process of securing the investment.

Thrasher spoke on his trips to China and Japan and China Energy officials coming to West Virginia to eventually secure the largest investment in West Virginia history. It's a large investment that could bring a large number of jobs, and is a number so big, officials don't even have a grasp on a number.

"It's truly mind boggling when you really think about it," Justice said. "It could be tens of thousands of really good paying jobs. It could be growth that we have never imagined."

But it wasn't all smooth sailing leading up to the signing of the MOU. Justice and Thrasher admitted that the deal almost went to another state, but the governor credits his close friendship with President Donald Trump for helping secure the deal -- who has been encouraging a deal to even out the trade imbalance between China and the United States.

The MOU is not necessarily legally binding, but Justice says it's important to look at the positive in this announcement. Thrasher adds this is a business deal and this is how most business deals start out. They add the deal has arms and legs to it and though there is no set timeline of when construction on any projects could begin but predicts they could begin late 2018.

UPDATE 11/9/17 @ 5:45 p.m.

The $83.7 billion investment is an agreement with China Energy. It is a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that promises to bring that amount to West Virginia over the next 20 years.

To put the dollar amount into perspective, it would be the world's third wealthiest person, behind Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates, and is well above the combined value of every product and service produced in West Virginia last year.

"It's certainly a game changer for the state of West Virginia," said Brian Anderson, director of WVU’s Energy Institute.

As for the reason why, "it's the lowest cost of raw materials for the petrochemical sector on the planet."

It means the investment opportunity is here, helped by relationships going back several years.

Plus Anderson said the state has a workforce that can “jump right in.”

Anderson said the projects will span much of the state -- particularly the Ohio and Kanawha valleys.

Likely first on the list are natural gas power plants in Harrison and Brooke counties, as well as the Appalachia Storage Hub with possible sites in Ohio and Kentucky, as well as Putnam and Jackson County, West Virginia.

"I have extremely high hopes that we can see a large portion of this portfolio adding up to 83 billion," said Anderson.

He adds that each project on the memo has been researched and is viable now, but over the next 20 years, some may come off the list or be added depending on the economic climate.

"The chances the investment is zero is extremely, extremely low."

So while exciting, few details are known.

"Certainly a developing story,” Anderson said. “It's going to take us a long time to fully realize the potential.”

As for the job totals, Anderson said the American Chemistry Council estimated a $36 billion investment as bringing 101,000 jobs with 70,000 directly in the investment and another 30,000 to help supply it.

With $83 billion, he would expect at least double that -- though some jobs would likely be in Ohio, Kentucky and Pennsylvania too.

A news conference about the announcement is scheduled at 11:30 a.m. Monday, Nov. 13 in the Governor's Reception Room at the State Capitol. More details will be announced then.

"We have had a complete turnaround in West Virginia in 2017," Gov. Jim Justice said in a release. "Just think, we started with a $500 million dollar deficit and now the jobs are coming back and where there was despair there is now real hope. All of these things have created a momentum to bring prosperity and goodness to the people of our state. While this is a great day for West Virginia we truly believe there are thousands of more great days to come."


China Energy Investment Corporation Limited has signed an agreement with the West Virginia Dept. of Commerce on an $83.7 billion plan to invest in shale gas development and chemical manufacturing projects in West Virginia.

The Memoradum of Understanding was signed Thursday in Beijing, witnessed by President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

West Virginia Secretary of Commerce H. Wood Thrasher and China Energy President Ling Wen signed the MOU.

"This is a great day for the state of West Virginia," Gov. Jim Justice said. "I’ve been saying for the last couple months that the tides are turning in West Virginia and this is proof. Today is another sign as we joined with my good friend President Trump to announce the largest investment in our state’s history."

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) also released a statement Thursday morning, saying, "I am thrilled Secretary Thrasher and China Energy have signed the Memorandum of Understanding today in Beijing. I have always said that West Virginians are the hardest working people in the world. I’m glad China Energy recognizes this and is working with us to create jobs and economic growth in our state."

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said early Thursday morning, "Expanding Appalachia’s energy infrastructure, including developing a regional storage hub and market for natural gas liquids, will have a transformative effect on our economy, our security, and our future. From driving growth and creating jobs to maximizing America’s energy potential, the benefits for West Virginia and the country from this new investment will be significant and long-lasting.

"That’s why I worked diligently to expand West Virginia's energy infrastructure and bring this investment to our state, advocating for it with President Trump, Vice President Pence, and Secretaries Perry and Ross. I’m excited to continue working with the administration, and state, local and private-sector leaders to keep this effort moving forward," Sen. Capito said.

China Energy is the world's largest power company, with more than 200,000 employees.

This investment by China Energy is the culmination of years of relationship building, both by West Virginia University and the state,” WVU President Gordon Gee said. “It is also an excellent example of the possibilities that we have been discussing within the West Virginia Forward initiative with our partners at the state Department of Commerce and Marshall University.

“As I have traveled the state talking about West Virginia Forward, I have frequently said we need a ‘quick win.’ In the economic development world, this is a nearly unprecedented big win. The agreement, and the ramifications from it, will help move West Virginia forward for years to come.”

Marshall President Jerry Gilbert released the following statement on the announcement:

“I congratulate Governor Jim Justice, Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher and Economic Development Director Kris Hopkins on this amazing announcement. This is indeed a game-changer for West Virginia and I could not be more excited about this development and what it means for our state and for Marshall University.

“One of my priorities as president is economic development for West Virginia and ensuring Marshall is a full partner with the Department of Commerce. Our faculty has the expertise and, through our College of Information Technology and Engineering and our College of Science, is equipping our students with the necessary skill sets to be leaders in this global economy, providing top-notch researchers to develop new technologies. We also are helping our state workforce train for the jobs of tomorrow through RCBI, our center of excellence in advanced manufacturing.

“At Marshall University, we have the knowledge, engineers, researchers, tech specialists and professionals to help this endeavor come into reality. We stand ready to partner with the state to provide this workforce. Put simply, Marshall University is ready to get to work!”