Jason Rigone: Looking Back – and Ahead – at Economic Development Success in Westmoreland County

by on June 7, 2017

Part 12 of a Weekly, 12-Part Series

Note:  The Pittsburgh Regional Alliance (PRA) invited each of its economic development partners from the 10-county region to share insight and maybe some hindsight about business investment and the economy’s growth – at the county and regional levels – looking through the rearview mirror at 2016 and at the road ahead and where it might be taking them, their counties and our region in 2017 and beyond.

Here are some of the responses that Jason Rigone, director of planning and development/executive director, Westmoreland County Industrial Development Corporation.

What do you count as the most strategically significant (not necessarily the largest in size or investment dollars) economic development-related deal or activity in your county in 2016? Why?

“Excela Health committed to modernizing its healthcare delivery system which included a significant investment for the development of new facilities.   Most notably in Unity Township, Excela is investing $39 million to construct a three-story medical mall patterned after Excela Square at Norwin – the healthcare system’s highly successful complex in North Huntingdon.  Excela Square at Latrobe will bring primary care and specialists together with diagnostic testing and rehabilitation and will serve as the hub of its Family Medicine Residency program.  In Greensburg, Excela is remodeling Westmoreland Hospital’s sixth floor to create the critical care unit of the future today via smart technology.   And in Mount Pleasant, Excela is reshaping Frick Hospital as a hybrid redevelopment project featuring inpatient and emergency care, enhanced outpatient services and physician practices in a single location. Future developments in Murrysville and Hempfield Township will follow a similar model.

In terms of total investment, Tenaska Energy broke ground on a state of the art 925-megawatt natural gas power plant with an investment of over $500 million.  This plant illustrates the opportunities associated with having a cheap and abundant natural resource developed locally and the impact the downstream market is having in the region.  The project will create more than 300 jobs, on average, during construction and 25 well-paid, full time employees.”

 

Last year, the Allegheny Conference released a landmark report, Inflection Point: Supply, Demand and the Future of Work in the Pittsburgh Region, detailing a dramatically changing workforce – both in numbers and skill sets.  What has your county done, is doing or planning to do to turn a regional workforce challenge into opportunity? What do you consider your county’s greatest workforce asset(s) to be and why?

“Over the past few years, Westmoreland County – through a collaborative partnership known as the Westmoreland County Forum for Workforce Development (WCFWD) – has collaboratively developed a vision for a career education system that will properly align our future labor force with the high-growth occupations in southwestern Pennsylvania such as advanced manufacturing, technical services, allied health and human services, information and communication technology, energy and natural resources and financial and business services.  With partnership from all 17 school districts, three career and technology centers, five institutions of higher education plus county economic development agencies and private business and industry, the WCFWD will focus on three primary tasks.  These are:  1. career education and exploration for K-12; 2. Development of a structured college and career pathways model for grades 9-12; and 3. Development of a modern online experiential hub to connect high school seniors with regional employers through internships, externships and apprenticeships.”

 

What is one of your top priorities for your county, relative to economic development, in 2017 and why?

“Westmoreland County has recognized that the most significant threat to the county and southwestern Pennsylvania is our aging and shrinking labor force.  If we, as a region, do not address this issue, our business community will lack the necessary workforce.  We have begun a process, through the Department of Planning and Development, to develop a strategic plan that will focus solely on creating improvements to address this workforce issue.  Our goal is to make Westmoreland County an attractive and vibrant place with the amenities desired by a younger demographic.  The county already boasts a diverse landscape with numerous choices for live, work and play, but it will be imperative that we look to the future and have a vision for what young people desire.”

 

How important is regional partnership to economic development success in your county and what do you count among your best partnership assets/allies for achieving success. Can you share a particular memory or reflection about a project when partnership moved the needle? If so, please do.

“Westmoreland County has always had strong and collaborative partnerships with our other county-based organizations such as the Economic Growth Connection, the Westmoreland County Chamber of Commerce and numerous other agencies and service providers.  However, over the past few years we’ve had the opportunity to develop a stronger working relationship and partnership through the PREP program – specifically with the Southwest Pennsylvania Commission, Catalyst Connection and other county-based economic develop organizations across the region.  Additionally, the Westmoreland County IDC has built a strong partnership with the RIDC.  This relationship is project-specific to redevelopment of the former Sony Technology Center.  This 2.8 million-square-foot regional asset requires the strength and attributes of both organizations to ensure its success.”

 

What is better about the economic development/business investment climate in the region now, versus 10 years ago? Conversely, what do hope will be improved within the next decade?

“National developers are now willing to view the region as a place of opportunity, and this interest has created value locally.   With the growth of the urban core, the outlying counties can feed off that positive buzz and energy.  And with companies such as Google and Uber continuing to invest in R&D and technology in Pittsburgh via their academic partnerships with CMU and Pitt, manufacturing opportunities are coming to life in nearby, but more cost-competitive locations, such as Westmoreland County.  The Aquion Energy investment is a case in point.”

 

 

Read the complete article, “The Rearview Mirror and the Road Ahead,” featuring responses from all of the region’s economic development professionals.  The piece was originally published in the Pittsburgh Business Times as part of a supplement for NAIOP Pittsburgh’s 24th annual awards banquet in March.

Read all 12 parts of the NAIOP blog series here