I love seeing more young people choosing to stay here rather than move away. This investment represents a commitment to the revitalization of our communities and brings with it an entrepreneurial spirit that hints at a very bright future for our region.
We should be excited to have younger residents and home-grown entrepreneurs collaborate with longtime residents to build a new regional economy.
We have a platform at our fingertips to facilitate this exciting collaboration. The manufacturing sector is poised to return to Southwestern Pennsylvania in a big way. Fayette, Greene and Washington counties stand in a prime position to reap the benefits of this resurgence.
Pennsylvania has a distinct energy advantage over most of the United States, and access to this abundant energy resource enables our region to attract new manufacturing operations. But more important, it allows us to retain our most precious resource.
We have something else in our favor. Tourism, according to Jeff Kotula, president of the Washington County Tourism Promotion Agency, is “one of the largest industries in the county with over $700 million in direct visitor spending supporting 6,000 jobs.” Those are impressive numbers. The region’s abundant outdoor recreational opportunities are an important piece of our economic development puzzle.
The increase in tourism and recreational opportunities is a key reason we are seeing young people choose to stay here. Capitalizing on our region’s natural beauty and access to national forests complement the other economic driver, natural gas.
The Monongahela River, our most important industrial infrastructure, is our most important recreational infrastructure as well. The river provides manufacturers with a robust transportation link to move products to market, and it provides excellent kayaking, fishing and recreational boating.
Hunting always has been big in Southwestern Pennsylvania, and our ever-growing network of hiking, biking and ATV trails draws people to the region. When more people are attracted to the area, economic development follows, as employers chase talent. And if an employer is relocating operations to the region, recreational opportunities are high on a list of must-haves.
As community leaders and economic development professionals look for a path forward, we must understand it’s up to us to develop a workforce to accommodate industry demands. That development will include retention of our generational talent pool, ensuring we are training them efficiently and cost-effectively for jobs that will be plentiful in the future. We also will collaborate with our world-class universities to attract top talent and keep them here following graduation.
Economic development is not cookie-cutter. Our region faces some daunting obstacles such as an aging population, out-migration by talented young people, opioid and drug addiction and blighted buildings. We are seeing improvement on some fronts. Fayette and Greene counties have recently completed comprehensive plans that have focused on these issues.
We have a captive audience for our marketing efforts. People we seek to attract are already paying attention. But this doesn’t make the task easier; on the contrary, it has become more difficult. Our next steps are critical. The presence of young entrepreneurs is a major selling point, as important as a skilled workforce, to manufacturers around the world.
Companies are seeking to locate to places with a resilient economy, supported by innovative startup tech businesses, a robust STEM education system with interlocked programming across multiple schools, and a collaborate relationship among local and regional governments and the existing corporate community.
It’s up to everyone in the region to create this synergy.
The energy industry will thrive alongside tourism, and will entice our young people to continue the trend to stay home, increase the flow of millennials from outside the region, and protect our pristine natural areas.
Jamie Protin is founder and principal of The Protin Group in Belle Vernon.
To submit business-related columns, email Rick Shrum at firstname.lastname@example.org.