The United States has the potential to meet the rising global demand for high-quality chemical products, and at the same time this would create numerous, much-needed jobs in the country, according to ExxonMobil Chemical Company President Steve Pryor, who spoke at the IHS World Petrochemical Conference in Houston.

The company predicts that between 2010 and 2040, global demand for the main petrochemical feedstock, ethylene, will soar by 150 percent, driven by rising needs for consumer products across the world as developing countries see an expanding middle class. North America is perfectly positioned to meet the needs for feedstock produced from natural gas, thanks to its abundant shale reserves, and could in fact double its exports of polyethylene, polypropylene and paraxylene by 2025, Pryor noted.

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ExxonMobil itself is looking to ramp up production, as the United States emerges as a major net exporter of chemicals. The company is planning to invest billions of dollars to expand its Baytown manufacturing complex, which is scheduled to be fully operational in 2017, Pryor said in his speech.

However, the U.S. chemical industry might face a serious challenge from the skilled labor force shortage, he warned. Figures from the National Association of Manufacturers reveal that up to two in three U.S. manufacturers suffer from moderate to severe worker shortages, with up to 600,000 jobs remaining unfilled.