Economic development booming in Washington County

Commissioners tout banner year of economic growth

February 28, 2013
Washington County Commission Chairman Larry Maggi speaks with attendees following his remarks on economic development at Thursday’s Washington County Chamber of Commerce breakfast. - Michael Bradwell / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

Larry Maggi, Washington County Commission chairman and lifelong local guy, has nothing against concrete. If it’s in the right places.

“We have country charm going for us,” he said, referring to the county’s rich rural fabric that endures today. “We have not ‘concreted’ over our green and that is an attraction. People also come here because of lower taxes.

“We’re trying to keep our country charm and our taxes low to help continue driving our economy.”

Maggi and fellow commissioners Diana Irey Vaughan and Harlan Shober Jr. addressed a number of issues and answered audience questions Thursday during the monthly Washington County Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting. The event drew 200-plus people to Southpointe Golf Club.

But for the most part, economic development was the subject du jour. And it was a glorious subject, for economic development boomed in Washington County in 2012. There were 73 new projects accounting for more than $346 million in capital investment.

The county also invested $7.7 million last year to leverage $25.8 million in public/private job-creation projects.

Tourism, an ever-burgeoning industry here, also experienced a large boost. Direct visitor spending increased 15 percent from 2011 to $669.2 million.

And talk about being an attraction … 66 companies either moved into the county or started projects here in 2012. Four of those firms undertook multiple projects.

Energy is frequently regarded as the main source of the county’s recent prosperity, thanks largely to development in Marcellus Shale. “Washington County has earned the moniker ‘The Energy Capital of the East,’” said chamber President Jeff Kotula, the meeting emcee.

Yet he and the commissioners acknowledged that technology, manufacturing and tourism were local economic forces as well.

Maggi said the economic development projects and capital investment last year will result in 2,530 new jobs. He also lauded manufacturing growth here, citing a Dun & Bradstreet report stating that Washington County has 280 companies that are “involved in manufacturing alone.”

The county, Maggi also pointed out, was first in the Pittsburgh region in natural gas wells drilled and drilling permits issued in 2012, and fourth and second in the state, respectively, in those categories.

Irey Vaughan, co-chairman of the commissioners, touted tourism’s growth. The $669.2 million in direct visitor spending last year, she noted, was a 15 percent jump from 2011 and more than twice what it was in 2006 – $333 million.

“This was prior to the full development of such tourism assets as The Meadows Racetrack & Casino, Tanger Outlets and the tremendous influx of workers in the natural gas field,” she said. “You can clearly see the positive impact these assets have on our economy.”

Shober said he is impressed by the positive impact the county Local Share Account program has had. The LSA, started in 2008, is funded by gross revenues from The Meadows Racetrack & Casino.

“The LSA has invested in over $52.2 million in new economic, community and industrial development projects,” Shober said. “However, more impressive is the leverage that we have been able to realize from these investments. We have been able to match the $52.2 million in LSA funds with over $121.2 million in federal, state and local monies.”

Marcellus’ presence may be a fortuitous phenomenon for Washington County, but Kotula said the region’s growth is largely attributable to gallons of blood, sweat and tears.

“The successes we are experiencing are not accidental,” he said. “They are the result of years of strategic planning by the county commissioners, business community and our economic development organizations to anticipate future growth and be proactive in developing site-ready business parks.”

Rick Shrum joined the Observer-Reporter as a reporter in 2012, after serving as a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rick has won seven individual writing awards, including two Golden Quills.

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