TIPTON - The pumps companies use to free natural gas from Marcellus shale operate at high pressure and often break down.
Gardner Denver makes and fixes pumps, and wanted a bigger share of the fracking business, so it asked its Marcellus customers in Pennsylvania what to do.
Get local, because we're not going to send our broken pumps to Florida or Texas, the firms replied.
Gardner Denver dedicated a 70,000-square-foot, $15 million plant in Tipton on Thursday that it built based on that advice.
The company's official target is 40 jobs within three years.
But Roy Skinner, a Gardner Denver employee who explained the workings of one of the company's fracking pumps on a tour of the plant Thursday, predicted 100 workers by this time next year.
Blair County is the beneficiary of Gardner Denver's decision not because its has an abundance of Marcellus - it's only on the western fringes, along the Allegheny Plateau - but because of its central location.
Gardner Denver officials looked at first at Williamsport to the northeast and then to Washington County in the southwest, both drilling hotspots.
Then it looked in the middle, on the suggestion of company CEO Barry Pennypacker, a Penn State graduate and Royersford native.
Altoona made sense, because it was two hours from each hotspot, said a consultant who spoke at the dedication.
Once Gardner Denver fixed on this area, Altoona-Blair County Development Corp. directed it towards the I-99 Enterprise Campus, which was ready to receive its first tenant.
That fit with the company's plans, because it was in a hurry to start, and because it liked the campus' proximity to Interstate 99, which can easily handle trucks transporting heavy pumps.
The project took just seven months.
"It's the perfect location," said Pennypacker, whose company recently relocated its headquarters to Philadelphia from Illinois.
The firm will repair all fracking pump components and manufacture "fluid ends."
Production began this week on raw steel cubes that machinists place into "machine centers" for a wide variety of milling operations: drilling, tapping, boring, threading and facing.
The project is a good example of Blair County's continuing evolution away from reliance decades ago on the railroad, which once employed 19,000 here, C. Alan Walker, secretary of the state Department of Community and Economic Development. said.
"You didn't hit the panic button," he told attendees. "You've done a marvelous job of diversifying."
Part of that success has been willingness to take risks like the one ABCD took in building the Enterprise Campus without a tenant commitment, he said.
There's potential here for growth not only by Gardner Denver, but also for other Marcellus-related businesses, because of the county's central location and the industry's need for chemicals, transportation, filtering and much more, Pennypacker said.
If the price of gas rises to $3.50 per thousand cubic feet, "Blair County will be exploding," Pennypacker said.
The shale gas industry has grown to about $3.5 billion, almost 1 percent of the state's economy, and by 2020, it should be about 5 percent, Walker said.
The potential is enormous, as the state has more BTUs [British Thermal Units} in natural gas than Saudi Arabia does in oil, Walker said.
"The best is yet to come," Walker said.
Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.