Indiana Gazette: Fitzgerald plans tour of Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission’s member counties

The new executive director of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission is no stranger to the 10 counties in that organization.

Rich Fitzgerald was Allegheny County’s executive for 12 years, but also served on the SPC board and its executive committee.

Still, Fitzgerald is planning to meet with the boards of commissioners in Indiana, Armstrong, Westmoreland and other counties that surround Allegheny.

His meeting with the Indiana County Commissioners is scheduled for Jan. 22.

“One of my jobs will be to hear from the commissioners what their goals are,” Fitzgerald said Tuesday in an interview that also is for an upcoming annual business review in The Indiana Gazette.

SPC may be best known for its role as a metropolitan planning organization, working on such measures as the Transportation Improvement Plan.

As was disclosed during a series of public meetings this past fall, SPC is dealing with $3.9 billion in traffic projects across 10 counties around Pittsburgh, including Indiana County.

But, as was noted by Indiana County Commissioner Sherene Hess during that interview with Fitzgerald, there is a lot of things happening, involving a wide range of partnerships meant to drive Indiana County forward.

According to SPC’s website, its mission is to help direct the use of state and federal transportation and economic development funds allocated to the region — approximately $35 billion through 2045.

The commission states on that website that it works closely with counties, cities, municipalities, and townships access this funding and support them with their planning needs.

Fitzgerald has served on SPC’s board, working among others with retired Indiana County Commissioner Rodney D. Ruddock during his four terms on the county board, as well as his service on SPC’s executive committee, where Ruddock once was chairman.

Recently, Armstrong County Commissioner Pat Fabian was elected as SPC’s chairman.

Hess also serves on that executive committee, and is part of the SPC’s board along with fellow Commissioners R. Michael Keith and Robin A. Gorman, as well as Indiana County Office of Planning & Development Executive Director Byron G. Stauffer Jr. and Indiana County Chamber of Commerce President Mark Hilliard.

That includes broadband, workforce development and economic development.

SPC is designated by the Appalachian Regional Commission as a Local Development District and by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration as Economic Development District for Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Fitzgerald said he will get the priorities of each county’s officials.

“There will be follow up meetings based on their recommendations,” the new SPC executive director said.

Fitzgerald also wants to look at what opportunities are available in each county.

In Indiana County, a probable destination is Windy Ridge, a county industrial park on the outskirts of White Township’s Oakland Avenue business district, where Philadelphia-based Urban Outfitters Inc. purchased nearly 48.5 acres from the Indiana County Development Corporation to construct a 750,000-square-foot fulfillment center, creating 225 permanent full-time jobs.

Another county facility, the 119 Business Park in Center Township, is home to the Air Liquide biomethane project now under development.

The Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, also known as the Southwest Pennsylvania Regional Planning Commission, was formed in 1962.

In 1974, it was designated the region’s Metropolitan Planning Organization by the governor of Pennsylvania.

Until 1992, SPRPC only covered the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area counties of Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Washington and Westmoreland, as well as the City of Pittsburgh itself.

In 1992, SPRPC joined with Fayette, Greene and Indiana counties to form the Southwest Pennsylvania Regional Development Council, to as a Local Development District.

In 1999, SPRPC and the council came together as the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, or SPC as it is now known.

In 2003, SPC expanded to include Lawrence County.

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