The Times West Virginian

February 10, 2013

Economic opportunity

Huntington Bank survey shows positive response on shale exploration

By Jessica Borders
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — Through a recent survey, Huntington Bank found that consumers responded positively when asked about the potential economic impact of shale exploration in their areas.

Huntington recently started its Midwest Economic Index as a way to gauge consumer reaction to certain economic indicators and popular topics within the market throughout the year. In December, the company conducted its first consumer sentiment survey, with holiday spending as the topic.

“We’re committed to helping our customers understand the economy in our markets,” said Chad Prather, Huntington’s senior vice president and commercial region manager for West Virginia.

Huntington’s primary footprint is in West Virginia, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky and Pennsylvania, but it also has operations in the some other states. The bank, which is headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, has 32 offices in West Virginia.

The natural gas drilling and development in the Marcellus shale is a big part of the economic activity in the territory where Huntington operates and has gotten a lot of people’s attention. For this reason, the company chose to focus its newest report on this topic, Prather said.

An independent research firm, Echo Research, conducted the survey. A total of 2,133 adult consumers within the Midwest Region of Huntington Bank’s community — or about 300 individuals from each target area — participated in online interviews from Nov. 12 through Nov. 20, 2012, he said.

Prather explained that the survey asked consumers living in the shale exploration areas — primarily in West Virginia, Ohio and Western Pennsylvania — how much they believed this growing industry would provide for economic opportunities in their area. They answered whether they saw “significant opportunity,” “somewhat of an opportunity” or “no opportunity” in 2013 as a result of shale exploration.

Across its operation area, from West Virginia through Michigan, Huntington discovered that 57 percent of respondents were under the impression that shale exploration would lead to economic opportunities where they lived. That number included 14 percent who believed the industry would create “significant opportunity” and 43 percent that selected “somewhat of an opportunity.”

On the other hand, 43 percent believed their areas wouldn’t see economic growth as a result of shale exploration.

The Midwest Economic Index found that 75 percent of people who took the survey in West Virginia thought that shale exploration would provide economic opportunity. In Western Pennsylvania, 79 percent of respondents answered the same, and it was 58 percent in Ohio.

Prather said he wasn’t surprised to see the significant amount of favorable responses. Within the region studied, the shale exploration is more prevalent in some counties than others, so the answers depended on who was asked and what county they lived in.

Because of the Marcellus shale development, Huntington has hired a dedicated group to work exclusively on these opportunities in the energy sector, he said. In November, Stephen Hoffman joined the team as managing director of energy banking.

Huntington is focused on energy and wants to continue down that path, Prather said. The company plans to keep supporting the industry through its energy division and grow its products and services.

Prather expects Huntington to frequently release studies as part of its Midwest Economic Index. He said he likes the idea that the reports are targeted geographically and can get a focused West Virginia, Ohio or Western Pennsylvania response, for example. Consumers should see the next report in the near future.

Email Jessica Borders at jborders@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @JBordersTWV.