Economic development tends to happen when different counties within a region help one another by sharing assets, while investing in infrastructure and education, according to Rich Fitzgerald, executive director of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission.
These topics among others were discussed Wednesday, Jan. 31, when the Pittsburgh North Regional Chamber of Commerce hosted its annual legislative breakfast event, where Fitzgerald and Matt Smith, chief growth officer of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, spoke to a crowd of chamber members at The Chadwick, 10545 Perry Highway.
“The good things we have in this region are the diversity of industries,” Fitzgerald said. “I think building upon all those assets we can continue to grow and make this a place where our young people want to stay.”
Fitzgerald took the podium first, and quickly pointed to education as one of the region’s greatest assets.
According to the most recent data from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry, Butler County posted a 3% seasonally adjusted jobless rate, the lowest in the region.
Similar figures were seen in the surrounding counties; however, Fitzgerald said he sees over 40,000 job openings on employment website Indeed in the 10 county region he serves, which includes Butler and Allegheny counties.
This is why he advocates for continued investment in community colleges.
“What I think we have is a great community college system,” Fitzgerald said. “BC3 is one of the best community colleges. Acquiring skills there is a lot cheaper than our four year institutions, and you get the skills you need to get the jobs that you need. We want to make sure we invest in that.”
With education comes jobs, a majority of those coming in the manufacturing sector, according to Smith.
“We have been a region that has always made things,” Smith said. “We think that continues with advanced manufacturing. We have that history of manufacturing, but we are not resting on that legacy.”
Other sectors Smith said he believes are a staple of the region includes health care, energy, and robotics and technology.
Manufacturing has had a major footprint in the area for a long time, Smith said, which has spurred development in the robotics and technology sector in Pittsburgh, along with some of the most established technology universities in the country.
“We have the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, two tier one research institutions within 1 square mile of each other,” Smith said. “That is a massive advantage. These tech companies want to be in the same area of the universities because that’s where the talent is.”
Smith said technology companies such as Amazon, Honeywell and Apple, who all have offices in Pittsburgh, tend to rely on the manufacturing businesses within the region for parts. Fitzgerald said the next step is to retain those workers and make sure they stay in the region.
“When you see Steelers fans on TV waving Terrible Towels during away games, you see all those people who left for Denver or Charlotte and so on,” Fitzgerald said.
Creating a better quality of life through transportation is one way to keep those people within the region, Fitzgerald said, which is part of what he and others work on at the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission.
“One of the things we are working on is the widening of Route 228,” Fitzgerald said. “There are some pinch points near the Mars area, and that’s investments we can make because if people can’t get to their jobs and customers can’t get to them, it impedes economic growth.”
The event offered a reminder there is still a lot of work to be done to keep the region growing and thriving, but it also served as a way to acknowledge what has already been done so far.
“What I am bullish about is the way we have a bright future,” Fitzgerald said. “What we’ve got to do more of is build upon our strengths and our assets. What we have done is create a lot of jobs that are there right now.”
View the full article at cranberryeagle.com.