Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Lawrence County joined to Allegheny for federal funds and commuting patterns

In a surprise to officials, the county now is part of the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area.

The Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area just got a little bigger.

Lawrence County, which includes the city of New Castle, recently was added to the MSA, joining Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland counties.

Lawrence, about an hour north of Pittsburgh, is west of Butler County and north of Beaver County along the Ohio border. Its addition to the Pittsburgh MSA — the first since Armstrong County was brought in two decades ago — increases the area’s population by more than 85,000 residents.

The designation matters.

Some federal programs, such as community development block grants and climate reduction pollution funding, involve allocations by MSAs. In addition, some businesses may focus on metropolitan statistical areas when they decide where to locate or expand.

Just how the decision was made? That’s not so clear.

The move to add Lawrence was done by the White House Office of Management and Budget. The office didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Nor has anyone from OMB contacted the county, according to Dan Vogler, chair of the Lawrence County commission.

“We have not been given any official notification,” Mr. Vogler said. “It’s obvious they’ve done it but we have not received anything.”

The U.S. Census Bureau says counties are added to MSAs because of new commuting or urban population data. There were 387 metropolitan statistical areas across the country as of July.

Lawrence County has attracted some people who work in Downtown Pittsburgh, the North Hills or southern Butler County, attracted by lower housing costs and an easy commute via three interstate highways, Mr. Vogler said.

“We do have people who live here and commute,” he said. “On some of the back roads, there have been a lot of nice new homes built over the last couple of decades. I don’t know where those people work but my assumption is some people move out here to get away from the congestion and get a bigger house for less money.”

Lawrence County already is linked to Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh, through its inclusion in the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, a metropolitan planning organization that helps direct how state and federal transportation and development funds sent to the region are spent.

But the county also is part of the Northwest Commission, which focuses on economic development in Lawrence and eight counties in the northwestern part of the state. Mr. Vogler chairs the commission.

He said county officials welcome the new designation, saying it could help attract new businesses such as factories or warehouses.

“We view it as very positive for Lawrence County and for the future,” he said. “One of the potential positive benefits is, when developers and site selectors are looking at potential areas in which to locate, my assumption is in some cases, they may only look to locate within an MSA. If that is the case, by adding us to the Pittsburgh MSA, that enhances our opportunity for potential new development.”

View the full story at post-gazette.com