Bentleyville plaza prepares to add to its energy focus

Bentleyville plaza prepares to add to its energy focus

January 26, 2014
Cory Wilbanks, director of the Shale Energy Institute, and John Kadash, plaza construction manager, stand outside the former RC Cola bottling plant in Bentleyville that is being remodeled to house the Shale Energy Institute, Hog fathers and other businesses. - Jim McNutt/Observer-Reporter Order a Print

Since 2009, when he began managing two side-by-side hotels owned by his father, Kam Gosai, in Bentleyville, Tejas Gosai has fostered success by tapping into the burgeoning shale gas industry to fill rooms at the Holiday Inn Express and Best Western Garden Inn Hotel just off the Interstate 70 exit.

Now Gosai, who also runs Shale Media Group, a marketing company that runs various websites carrying oil and gas news as well as originally produced content, is ready to revive a project that will turn a former RC Cola bottling plant nearby into the next extension of his shale-related business ventures in the Mon Valley.

It is a 29,000-square-foot building known as “Big Jim’s Plaza,” a reference to “Big Jim,” a 20-foot sculpture of a cowboy his father purchased a few years ago and placed to oversee the hotels. The building will later this year house two businesses related to the hotels’ operations as well as Shale Energy Institute, a for-profit school for training commercial truck drivers.

In 2011, Gosai announced plans for a similar operation that was to include up to 10 shops, but couldn’t raise enough commitments from potential tenants.

Gosai said last week a 3,500-square-foot banquet area will be built at the plaza for the Holiday Inn as well as a space to house equipment for Best Western. He’s also received a letter of intent from Hog father’s Restaurant to open a branch at the site.

But it’s the school that Gosai envisions as a centerpiece for the renewed endeavor.

“We see it as a way to turn Bentleyville into a little bit of a hub” for supplying trained workers for the natural gas industry.

He said the school will launch Feb. 17 in the conference room of the Holiday Inn Express until the space for it is built out later this year in the plaza building.

Shale Energy Institute is a joint venture between the Gosais and Cory Wilbanks, who earlier developed curriculum for oil and gas training for Western Area Career & Technical Center in Houston.

When he decided he wanted to form his own school, Wilbanks approached the Gosais.

Tejas Gosai said the school received state certification in December.

Wilbanks said the institute will focus on preparing students for specific employers within the shale gas spectrum.

“(Each) company needs what the company needs,” said Wilbanks, 35, who has 13 years of experience with CDL and heavy equipment training. “We’re very specific; you can’t train one person for every job out there.”

Wilbanks said last week that the first class will have 10 students. The two months of training will focus on students earning commercial drivers licenses, primarily for working in the oil and gas industry, where demand continues to be strong.

He said he also wants to give graduates a one-two punch for obtaining a job, preparing them to drive a truck, but also giving them the ability to operate equipment they may be hauling to a well site.

Wilbanks said the institute will focus on men and women with a high school diploma or equivalent who are in their late teens to mid-20s.

“They have to pass a drug test and have a background check,” he said.

While tuition for the course is $10,000, Gosai said the institute plans to offer $50,000 in scholarships in the first year.

Gosai said the private school isn’t intended to compete with area career and technical schools or community colleges that also are preparing people for the region’s shale industry workforce.

“There’s enough room for anyone” involved in the training side of the industry, he said.

“There are five or six billboards on I-70 for companies looking for CDL drivers.”

For additional information on the Shale Energy Institute, contact Shyla Henry at 855-4GASJOBS.

Michael Bradwell has been business editor for the Observer-Reporter since 1995, and was named editor of The Energy Report in 2012. He joined the newspaper in 1990 as a general assignment reporter in the Greene County bureau and has also worked as a copy editor. A 1974 graduate of Pennsylvania State University with a degree in English, he began his career at the Bedford (Pa.) Gazette. Prior to joining the O-R, he served as public relations director for Old Bedford Village, account executive at two Pittsburgh public relations agencies and copywriter for the country’s largest wholesaler of mutual funds.

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