Pittsburgh Business Times: Pittsburgh metro grows, thanks to addition of Lawrence County

For the first time in 20 years, Pittsburgh just got bigger. Well, the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Area, that is.

The federal government added Lawrence County to the Pittsburgh MSA, in its most recent updates by The U.S. Office of Management and Budget. The entire eight-county MSA is now Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Lawrence, Washington and Westmoreland counties.

Armstrong county was the last addition, in 2003. Butler County was added in 1993 and Fayette County joined the metro in 1983.

Benjamin Bush, CEO of Forward Lawrence — the combined brand for the Lawrence County Regional Chamber of Commerce and Lawrence County Economic Development Corporation — expects it to be a benefit.

“I think it’s a good thing for Lawrence County,” Bush said. “It will increase our visibility, increase our relationship with the MSA. Being a part of it will increase Lawrence County’s visibility to businesses to relocate.”

Christopher Briem, regional economist at the University of Pittsburgh Center for Social and Urban Research, said the decision on when to add counties is determined by commuting pattern data, meaning more Lawrence County residents work in areas that were already part of the MSA.

Bush noted it means that 25% of the county’s residents work in the Pittsburgh MSA and 25% of its workforce commutes from the Pittsburgh MSA.

In some ways, this change just codifies what many already consider to be the case — that Lawrence County is part of the Pittsburgh region.

Lawrence County is already part of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, which works on regional planning and decision-making and planning for administration of federal transportation dollars. It is also part of the 10 counties that are part of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, which studies and markets the region.

“It kind of solidifies the relationship that are already ongoing,” said Bush, who became CEO of Forward Lawrence about three weeks ago.

He said while the designation does not bring specific financial benefits, it could still help as Lawrence participates with the rest of the region in seeking funding.

“Regional efforts are becoming the norm,” Bush said. “There will be the ability to join with the rest of the MSA to help bring funding back to the entire MSA and to Lawrence County.”

While Lawrence County is part of the Southwest Pennsylvania Commission for transportation purposes, as it is part of PennDOT District 11 that includes Allegheny, Beaver and Lawerence counties, it is part of the Northwest Commission for economic development efforts.

Amy McKinney, director of the Lawrence County Planning Department, does not know yet how the change might impact eco devo efforts. She noted her current contact for state funding through the DCED is through the Northwest Commission, based in Erie.

“We belong to Northwest and Southwest commissions. We are right in the middle. We handle (non-transportation) planning with the Northwest section. We don’t know what it means,” said McKinney. “I think it’s a benefit to be in both, to tell the truth. In the Southwest, we are a little fish in the big sea. In the Northwest, we are a little bigger fish and maintain a relationship with the rural counties.”

McKinney said she has fielded questions from commissioners and others about the impact on economic development, but at this point does not know whether it will change the county’s membership in the Northwest Commission down the road.

Another change in the most recent government designations was that Mercer County was removed from the Youngstown, Ohio, metro area, becoming a micropolitan statistical area on its own known as the Hermitage Micropolitan Area. Indiana County is also a micropolitan statistical area.

The micropolitan statistical area designation was created in 2003, at the same time Armstrong County was added to the Pittsburgh MSA.

Briem said being in a metropolitan area can help with site selection.

“Being in a metro area probably puts you on those lists more than not being in a metro area,” Briem said. “Creating micropolitan areas (helped) to expand the list that people are looking at.”

Another change for those studying regional patterns is that the full Pittsburgh-Weirton-Steubenville Combined Statistical Area is made up of the Pittsburgh MSA, the Weirton-Steubenville MSA (Jefferson County, Ohio, and Brooke and Hancock counties in West Virginia), plus the Hermitage and Indiana County micropolitan areas, for a total of 13 counties.

The core counties of the Pittsburgh MSA are designated as Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Washington and Westmoreland.

Greene County remains one of 13 less-populace counties in the state that is not in a micropolitan or metropolitan statistical area.

View the full story at bizjorunals.com