Ken Raybuck: Looking Back – and Ahead – at Economic Development Success in Butler County

by on April 11, 2017

Part V 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 Ken Raybuck, executive director, Butler County Community Development Corporation, shared with us.

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?

“The FedEx Distribution Center on Tomlinson Road in Jackson Township.  A phased opening started on Aug. 5 after approximately three years of project planning and construction of a new intersection on Route 528. Encompassing more than 320,000 square feet, the center will employ some 230 people, 90 of whom are new FedEx employees. The remaining 140 employees transferred from other FedEx facilities in the greater Pittsburgh area.”

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?

“Butler County is unique in Pennsylvania as it is home to both a community college, Butler County Community College, and a state university, Slippery Rock.  Both are highly recognized institutions. Butler County Community College was recognized as the state’s number one community college and recognized, in part, for excellent workforce development and leadership programs. Tri-County Workforce Investment Board, (TCWIB) serves Butler County and formed a Business-Education Partnership. TCWIB has been meeting with educators and businesses to develop solutions for the workforce issues facing the counties they serve. The PA Department of Labor and Industry recently announced availability of grants for up to $150,000 each for Business-Education Partnerships, and TCWIB will apply.”

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

“Butler County is going through a transition year wherein it’s hiring for a new county position: chief of economic development.  The individual in this position will coordinate and focus on economic development activities within county departments. The new hire will work with all organizations providing economic development related services, such as the Butler County IDA, Housing and Redevelopment Authority, CDC, and Tourism to form a strategic plan for economic development in the county. At the same time, CDC will complete a search and select a new executive director to replace me because I will be retiring at the end of June.”

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.

“We are especially pleased with the success of helping Iron Mountain secure a $2 million RACP grant to assist in the build-out of its underground data centers in Butler County [at the Boyers facility].  CDC had excellent support from the Butler County Commissioners and regional partners in this process, including the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, the local representatives of the Governor’s Action Team, (Lance Chimka), Representative Tedd Nesbit, Senator Scott Hutchinson and many others.”

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?

“Ten years ago we entered a deep recession in the U.S. and the world as a whole.  But Butler County weathered the recession rather well and continued to build and grow.  Our relative success was due to the strength and diversity of the county’s individual companies. We don’t rely on one particular industry or only a handful of companies.  The county has a wide variety of manufacturing, management of companies, healthcare, retail and other industries supporting its economy.  Maintaining this into the future will require execution of an economic strategy for the county, in order to compete for a decreasing amount of state and other funds allocated to assisting companies looking to grow and expand here.”

BONUS QUESTION (don’t be bashful!): If you were a fan of “Mad Men,” you’ll likely recall Don Draper’s concept – “New York: Oh Little Town of Bethlehem” – for a Bethlehem Steel campaign the Sterling Cooper agency was trying to land. When considering economic development marketing, the product that we’re selling in southwestern Pennsylvania is “10 counties, 1 region.” Channeling your inner “Mad Men,” what would be the headline on an ad you’re charged with creating to market our product – the region?

“Southwestern PA has workers, not employees.   Build your company here with hands that work and minds that think.”

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.

Check back on the PRA Blog every Tuesday for the next installment in the series.