Commissioner Robert Wirkner says he can't think of a “more exciting or opportunity-filled time” for Carroll County than the present, as it reaps the benefits of being the epicenter of the Utica Shale boom in eastern Ohio.

Commissioner Robert Wirkner says he can’t think of a “more exciting or opportunity-filled time” for Carroll County than the present, as it reaps the benefits of being the epicenter of the Utica Shale boom in eastern Ohio.

“I’d rather have the challenges that come with expansion and growth than have no challenges,” he told U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, on Thursday.

Wirkner was among a group of Carroll County government, business and education leaders who participated in a shale roundtable discussion with Portman at Atwood Lake Resort.

Portman hailed the impact oil and gas exploration has had on the state.

“Six years ago, no one thought Ohio was an oil and gas state,” he told the group. “They had forgotten about our heritage.” But the recent boom has “put Ohio on the map.”

He said he favors state over federal regulation of the industry, noting that Ohio has good regulations in place.

Amy Rutledge, executive director of the Carroll County Convention & Visitors Bureau, agreed with Wirkner on the local impact of the industry.

“It’s been a huge positive for the most part,” she said.

The main complaint from residents has been increased traffic.

“Our infrastructure cannot cope with the abundance of traffic,” Wirkner said.

The county also has seen a shortage of low- to moderate-income housing, he said.

Sales tax collections have increased, which has allowed county government to take care of immediate needs, such as putting a new roof on the courthouse. Now Carroll County is looking for money to meet future needs, such as water and sewer lines, Wirkner said.

David Quattrochi, superintendent of Carrollton Exempted Village Schools, told Portman about a recent enterprise zone agreement with Carroll County Energy, which will mean construction of a power plant north of Carrollton.

The agreement will guarantee the district $1.3 million annually for the next 30 years, which the district will use to build a new school building, the superintendent said.

Ed Robinson, the school district’s director of programs, said Carrollton also is making plans to open a compressed natural gas fueling station for its buses.

Portman agreed the CNG is a good energy choice. Prices for gasoline are low at the moment, but as demand picks up in Europe and Asia, they will be on the rise again.

“We shouldn’t get too fat and happy over $2.29 gas,” the senator said.

The shale boom also has fueled business expansion in the Carroll County area.

Scott Cole of Huebner Chevrolet in Carrollton said his dealership has “benefited tremendously.” The business is in the middle of its third building project in the past four years.

One challenge, though, has been finding and keeping good technicians, he said. Huebner’s has lost several to the oil and gas industry.

Tom Kishman, whose family owns Kishman’s IGA in Minerva, recently completed a 10,000-square-foot addition to the business, bringing the store to 40,000 square feet.

The grocery store also has been doing some catering, taking food to well sites in the area.

To meet the tastes of new customers from the southern states, Kishman’s has begun stocking alligator meat, more seafood and food seasonings popular in Louisiana and Texas, he said.

John Logsdon, regional director of operations for Radius Hospitality Group, which operates Atwood Lake Resort, said his company has seen the positives from the oil and gas industry. He said the industry has been “essential” for Radius’ business.

“We couldn’t be more pleased with where we’re at right now,” he said.

The resort has 103 rooms, but Radius is looking to build additional housing and lodging at the facility in the future, he said.

Bryce Custer, who is involved in commercial real estate, told Portman that more than 20 new companies have come to the area because of the oil boom.

He has been seeing interest from retailers who would like to locate in Carroll County, as well as builders who want to build single- and multi-family homes.

He also has started to talk with manufacturers who are looking at the county, because the area’s natural gas will mean lower energy costs for them.

“This area will be ripe for manufacturing,” he said.

Reach Jon at 330-364-8415

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Development of the Utica Shale play has helped fuel economic growth in Carroll County :

In 2010, the county had one hotel with 50 rooms. By the beginning of 2015, the county will have four hotels with 400 rooms. Often, those hotels have more than 80 percent occupancy rates. “Those are numbers that are huge in the industry,” said Amy Rutledge, executive director of the Carroll County Convention & Visitors Bureau. At one time, Carroll County had an unemployment rate of 15 percent. It is now below 5 percent. Source: Carroll County Convention & Visitors Bureau