Westmoreland County is not shying away from our challenges. We are taking them head on and maximizing our many assets as we work to “Reimagine Westmoreland.” The following is an op-ed piece I authored that was published in the July 11 edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Westmoreland County, like many parts of Western Pennsylvania, has its challenges. But it is certainly not the dystopian wasteland that the Post-Gazette presented in its grim assessment published July 2 (“Population Decline, Poverty Plague Westmoreland County”).
Unlike many other counties, we are not shying away from our challenges. We are taking them head on and maximizing our many assets as we work to “Reimagine Westmoreland.”
The article failed to note that Westmoreland County is home to global high-tech companies, respected institutions of higher education, thriving city and suburban school districts, well-known tourist attractions and world-class cultural amenities — all located in the heart of the picturesque Laurel Highlands. We have revitalized main streets and bedroom communities. We have a lot to offer anyone looking to live here, raise a family, get a job or start a business.
“Reimagining Westmoreland” is an update to the county’s decade-old comprehensive plan. Throughout this process, we have held public listening sessions and continue to conduct online outreach to gauge not only where we are, but also where we want to be. We’ve been reminded, too, of our many advantages.
You can find a good job in Westmoreland County. We are home to nationally recognized companies, such as Kennametal, Elliott Group, Philips Respironics and Siemens. Through our Advanced Technology Center at Westmoreland College we are training workers for the high-tech careers of today and tomorrow. And we have partnered with our 17 school districts and workforce-development partners to devise curriculum to best meet the needs of employers and the aspirations of employees. Soon there will be more than 600 union tradesmen and tradeswomen working to build a half-billion-dollar natural-gas-fueled power-generating station here.
You can play in Westmoreland County. Whatever you fancy, it’s here. Families can enjoy numerous attractions, such as Idlewild Park and SoakZone — named Best Kids’ Park — a network of hiking and biking trails, and parks and open space for both passive and active recreation. Sportsmen and women can enjoy pristine fishing streams and abundant gamelands. For history buffs, there is Fort Ligonier, Historic Hanna’s Town, West Overton Village and Bushy Run Battlefield. We are home even to the McDonald’s Big Mac Museum!
You can enjoy all kinds of cultural activities in Westmoreland County. There’s a symphony, a ballet company and The Westmoreland Museum of American Art. Westmoreland County hosts nationally known acts at Greensburg’s Palace Theatre, Irwin’s Lamp Theatre and Vandergrift’s Casino Theatre. Wine lovers can discover a variety of vintages at one of our growing list of wineries. We are the summer home of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
You can live well in Westmoreland County. We have low taxes and homes to meet any family’s needs. With a median price for a quality family home of $138,000, housing is affordable, too. After graduating from one of our respected public schools, students can continue their studies at one of our prestigious colleges and universities, including the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, Penn State New Kensington, Saint Vincent College and Seton Hill University. Health care options are abundant and, often, relatively affordable. And, when it’s time to vacation, our Arnold Palmer Regional Airport flies 300,000 travelers every year direct to Florida and South Carolina.
County government has been responsive to our changing needs. In addition to updating the comprehensive plan, we are embarking on our first marketing plan in conjunction with the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau. Through our land bank, we are tackling blight more aggressively than ever. In confronting the opioid epidemic that is plaguing all of Western Pennsylvania and much of the country, we are better coordinating substance-abuse treatment, prevention efforts and law enforcement.
We in Westmoreland County honor our heritage. We are proud of who we are. We are excited about where we can go. We have never backed away from a challenge. We are taking on important issues such as diversity, changing workforce needs — and, yes, negative perceptions. As we “Reimagine Westmoreland,” we will think big and act boldly. We hope the Post-Gazette will join us.
(Ted Kopas, a Democrat, has been a Westmoreland County commissioner since 2010.)