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Although Erie County has lost nearly 5,000 manufacturing jobs over the past 10 years, the region’s plastics sector can be counted as an island of stability. After adjusting for an accounting change, employment in the plastics sector has held steady at 4,300 jobs.

Now, the construction of the $6 billion Shell cracker project two hours away in Beaver County holds the promise of securing those 4,300 jobs for years to come.

But there is an argument to be made that the cracker, capable of converting natural gas liquids into 3½ billion pounds of polyethylene a year, could do more than preserve an already healthy slice of the economy.

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