Southwestern Pennsylvania is a patchwork of small towns. Even Pittsburgh, our region’s major city, is smallish among major U.S. cities.

The thread that binds us is us. Our region’s brightest asset is our people. We are a tough, resilient bunch who know about hard work and show up every day. In this case, “that’s the way we’ve always done it” is a good thing.

But when it comes to adapting to our rapidly changing economic landscape, “that’s the way we’ve always done it” is not so good.

All small communities are looking for ways to strengthen their economies by developing a strong commercial and industrial base, creating jobs and providing a better quality of life. Smart growth strategies are the key to revitalizing small-town economies and helping rural communities grow through sustainable development, while maintaining their distinctive rural character.

Over time, all communities experience changes that negatively impact their economies. The resilient towns and regions adapt to these changes, and reinvent if necessary.

Last evening, at Waynesburg University, Greene County took a major step, a bold step, forward in achieving this common goal. With the launch of the “Greene County, a Powerful Place” marketing campaign, the county has committed to implementing smart growth strategies to attract investment from the natural gas industry’s downstream manufacturing sector.

Downstream operations are the gas processes that occur after the production phase to the point of sale. To do this, the county created a best-in-class marketing campaign to build on local assets.

This campaign is a direct result of the county’s comprehensive plan titled, “Live Greene, Work Greene, Love Greene” that was developed throughout 2018. Greene County is doing something it had never before undertaken at this scale. It is implementing smart growth strategies to adapt to change while fiercely preserving the blue-collar spirit and rural character that have defined residents over the county’s proud 223-year history.

Recruiting large employers such as manufacturers is not a new strategy for economic development. Many regions are focusing their efforts on recruiting this type of employer. We are not only competing with Ohio and West Virginia. The competition is fierce, and it’s coming from nearly every corner of the country.

Corporate partners from the region’s private sector are seeking to invest in our future. Why? Because it is good business. They have a vested interest in helping to protect the rural landscape, preserve open space, protect our air and water quality, provide places for recreation, and create tourist attractions that bring additional sources of investment.

Why? Because they live here. They are us. We should be supporting the things that are important to them as well.

We are in this together, my friends: companies operating within the natural gas supply chain, whether upstream, midstream or downstream; our state, county and local governments; our environmental protection advocates. And every single one of us. Our future is in our hands.

Incremental investment in our regional assets protects our natural resources. We have an abundance of brownfield sites along our rivers. Investment in these sites for manufacturing purposes will clean up and redevelop polluted properties. That’s a benefit, right?

Developing a more productive use of our existing transportation, water and wastewater infrastructure is another benefit of industrial development. We haven’t even mentioned the obvious increase in the tax base and job creation. I think removing the environmental contamination along our river may be the most important benefit for development of the natural gas industry’s downstream sector.

Our natural and built environments can thrive when we hold each other accountable – public and private sector, industry and government, and all of us. Together, we can build a bright future.

Jamie Protin is founder and principal of The Protin Group in Belle Vernon.

To submit business-related columns, email Rick Shrum at rshrum@observer-reporter.com.

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