The Importance of Our Partners
Every year, I am invited to present to the Westmoreland Chamber of Commerce issues of importance to county business owners and residents at its annual “State of the County” luncheon. This year, I focused on the importance of county partner agencies to build and renew our county. The complete text of my remarks follow…
Many thanks, as always, to the Chamber’s staff, board and membership for this opportunity to hear directly from us about what is happening in our county. The challenges and opportunities we face daily in leading the County are best addressed by working with all of you – the residents of this county — who put us in these important positons. It’s especially important for you to ask the questions you want answered, so I’ll be concise to leave us ample time for that.
I’ve spoken before this group about the county’s budget, important county investments, and development and transportation projects. We really have a lot going on. But to grow this county, create business opportunities for you, train your workers and help those who are down get back on their feet, we rely on a talented – albeit often overlooked – network of county partners. In many ways, they are responsible for building the Westmoreland we want. The county supports them financially because they mean so much to all of us.
Time precludes me from describing them all. But I wanted to specifically discuss some because they have such a profound impact on our quality of life and the work you all do.
First, Westmoreland College. The county has served as the local sponsor since its inception. And while state funding has dropped severely, ours has not – because it’s too important. Almost 5,200 students – both young people and those seeking a new career – enrolled this fall. And 97 percent of the College’s graduates live and work in southwestern PA, which is so key to providing you with the workers you need, while also keeping our people right here. Working closely with some of our county’s largest employers – like Excela, Elliot, Respironics, Latrobe Steel and others – the College is offering ongoing education and training to best match local employers with local employees. In fact, regional employers have enrolled more than 700 of their workers at Westmoreland’s Advanced Technology Center to meet ever-changing workforce demands.
The economic impact of our Arnold Palmer Airport has more than doubled since our partnership with Spirit Airlines began in 2010. The Airport’s economic impact to our region is in excess of $200 million every year. 300,000 commercial passengers use the airport every year traveling to, and from, Florida and South Carolina. That’s up from exactly zero from when I first took office eight years ago. Last year, we resurfaced and strengthened the main runway, ensuring the future of commercial flight availability and the potential for continued airline and economic growth.
The county also serves as local sponsor for the Westmoreland Conservation District. And despite its name, this agency has as much to do with successful development as it does with conservation and watershed restoration, offering services such as agricultural best management practices for farmers; and erosion control and stormwater management for development projects.
If you’ve done a development in the county, you’ve worked with these folks and can attest to their professionalism and timeliness with permitting. Just last year, the District did 258 plan reviews and issued 73 permits, including for the Monsour and Jeannette Glass Redevelopment projects, the Siemens expansion at RIDC Westmoreland and the new AHN Hospital in Hempfield. They’ve also done new housing developments – totaling 600 lots – in Penn and North Huntingdon Townships, and important transportation projects, like the realignment of Route 31 at the Donegal Turnpike interchange and the reconstruction of Interstate 70 at New Stanton.
These plan reviews and permits, which are required by the state, are done much more efficiently than if we relied on the state DEP.
Our Transit Authority helps your workers get to work, and drive their loved ones to important appointments so they don’t have to call off work to do it. On average, the fixed route bus service provides more than a half-million trips every year. There are almost 200,000 more trips through the shared ride paratransit program for seniors and those with disabilities. Just last month, the first six CNG-fueled buses were put into service, using locally-produced cleaner fuel. Sixteen more will be on the road by the end of this year.
The county also supports our Industrial Development Corporation that provides in many ways the base for our manufacturing base. The Federated Library System to provide education for children and the working poor. Farmland Preservation and Penn State Extension to assist our vital agricultural industry, and the Land Trust to preserve those precious areas of special interest. We support Westmoreland Cleanways, the Historical Society, the EMS Council and others because they are all so important to our quality of life.
Using specifically designated state human services funding we help offset the ever-growing demands put on the county Foodbank, support victims of domestic and sexual violence through the Blackburn Center, provide stability and security at the Union Mission and Welcome Home Shelter, and help your employees deal with challenges at home through the Family Services program. All this, so they don’t miss work, or miss new opportunities, because they’re hungry, hurting or desperate.
We don’t have to do any of this. But we do. And we should.
Not just because it helps us all. It’s also a great value. Of the county’s more than $300 million annual budget, all this accounts for less than $10 million of it. It’s less than we invested five years ago. And we all know the cost of doing business is always going up. It’s only through cooperation and compromise, and sometimes a little sacrifice, that we’re able to maintain these vital programs and services. But as I’ve hopefully explained today they sure mean a lot to our economy, our families and the future growth of Westmoreland County.
Thank you again for the opportunity to be with you today. I look forward to your questions.