Can shale revival bring jobs back to long-contracting chemicals industry?
U.S. chemical companies like Cornerstone Chemical in Waggaman, La., are expecting a mighty tailwind from shale drilling in the coming years, and the industry has begun to tout a massive boost for the economy. Some companies have announced multibillion-dollar investments in new U.S. plants, and many more -- Cornerstone included -- are contemplating them. But the industry has also come off a multidecade process of making its operations leaner to face international competition. A key to that has been automation: Today's plants increasingly use machines and software to do the job that once took several workers. What it all adds up to: If the chemical industry jolts U.S. employment, it won't be mainly in the chemical plants themselves. It will be elsewhere.