Mike Belding said plans are in place to attract businesses and individuals to Greene County.

“A lot of our initiatives are to stop the flow of people leaving here and eventually entice people to move back here,” said the chairman of the Greene County Board of Commissioners Friday.

Belding spoke in the latest installment of the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce’s First Friday series.

He was joined on the panel by Beaver County Commissioner Jack Manning and Westmoreland County Commissioner Gina Cerilli Thrasher.

“We really want to increase our initiatives within the region,” Belding said. “Often, we feel a little more out of the way than some of our more populous neighbors such as Washington (County) to the north and all the way into Allegheny County when we look at regional initiatives. Greene County needs to determine in the future what we want to be.”

Belding explained that the keys toward enhancing that future are infrastructure, workforce development and an increase in recreation and amenities.

Concerning infrastructure, Belding cited the importance of improvements to the water system, where he said there are areas of the county lacking in potable water.

“This is a great opportunity for us to do some major projects to get some really good infrastructure put into place with some new facilities, some upgraded facilities and, in some cases, new service,” Belding said.

Greene County is known for its rich history in fossil fuel industry – it is the No. 1 producer of coal in the commonwealth and the No. 4 natural gas producer. But that industry is declining. The closure of Mylan Pharmaceuticals in Morgantown, W.Va., and Blacksville No. 2 mine resulted in many jobs lost for Greene County residents.

However, there remains a way to continue to thrive in the energy industry.

“Even as productive as our natural coal mines have been, we still remain one of the poorest counties in the commonwealth,” Belding said, adding there is probably about 30 years of coal industry left in the county, and a little bit more for natural gas. “We do have the potential to stay in the energy sector with solar power and natural gas-powered power plants, but we also have the opportunities for light manufacturing, distribution centers, rural activities and tourism.”

Cerili Thrasher agreed, stating jobs in a county go a long way in attracting people to or keeping people in a community.

“It all comes down to jobs,” Cerill Thrasher said. “We have a population decline, and the way to keep people in their community is to give them a job.”

A step in keeping businesses in Greene County involved Department of Community and Economic Development funding for 25 local business impacted by COVID-19.

Another key step in the development of Greene County is the successful implementation of broadband capability. Funding was used to bring 8,300 houses and businesses on line. Belding said Greene County has been touted as a model for rural broadband installation.

Individuals can live in Greene County and work elsewhere via the telecommunication capability available through the broadband installation.

It’s a key cog in the goal to add diversified businesses.

“If we try to attract diversified businesses, we are increasing our quality of life,” Belding said. “We find that amenities will draw people.”

Those include planned enhancements in recreation.

Ground recently was broken on a new recreational area on Water Dam Road that will include 360 acres of leased property with a reservoir, softball fields and hiking, biking and walking trails.

Belding said these initiatives are part of the vision he sees for Greene County as part of its new leadership that was elected in 2019.

“I believe one of the roles of government is to provide diverse entrepreneurs, businesses and industry and environment in which to thrive and provide safe communities and education systems where families want to work, live and play,” Belding said. “(Our focus) is to get people to stay here in Greene County or to get people to move here, whether it’s individuals or businesses. The opportunities are endless.”

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