Consulting firm outlines North Huntingdon's strengths, challenges
North Huntingdon officials have long known the community has a number of advantages — and some challenges — when it comes to attracting businesses that fuel the township's economy.
Now they have a blueprint to help focus on what works and change what does not.
Fourth Economy Consulting, based on Pittsburgh's North Side, last month delivered an analysis to help municipal officials develop short- and long-term economic-development strategies. The report includes a dozen recommendations that range from working to retain existing businesses and attract new ones to improving the municipality's promotional and marketing efforts.
“For quite some time, we've wanted to get more involved in economic-development activities,” said Michael Turley, the township assistant manager. “But we often get so tied up in our traditional roles dealing with the (township's) day-to-day business that it can be hard to carve out a new role that expands what we do. I think the work Fourth Economy did provides a foundation to help us move ahead.”
Fourth Economy's analysis was conducted over a four-month period and was based on, among other things, a series of discussions with local officials and business leaders; visits to key industrial, commercial and residential sites, as well as schools and parks; and the collection of demographic and economic data.
A summary of the consultant's findings were presented at last month's commissioners meeting.
Stephen McKnight, a vice president with Fourth Economy, said some of the attributes that would make North Huntingdon attractive to potential employers include:
• Its proximity to Pittsburgh and Greensburg.
• Its location along the Route 30 corridor and easy access to the turnpike.
• The community's potential role as a “gateway” to tourism and recreation in the Laurel Highlands.
• A strong public school system.
• Access to the Palmer Airport for corporate charter jets.
• A strong housing stock.
• A willingness among public officials to work with developers.
Though all the community's positive aspects can be used to market the community to developers, McKnight noted several areas that stand out.
“I can't stress enough how important a good school system is to companies looking for sites for their facilities,” McKnight said. “And if a project does land here, the municipality can play a critical role by keeping the (development) process going.”
Some of the obstacles that will be difficult for the township to overcome include a lack of large parcels of land available for commercial projects and a topography that can be expensive to develop, McKnight said.
Turley said the analysis provided a number of ideas for how the municipality could change its approach to future economic development.
“I think we'll be having a lot of conversations about what we can do with the limited resources,” he said. “I don't see us being in a position where we can buy land and then do speculative infrastructure improvements in the hopes of attracting developers.
“But we certainly can serve as conduits for developers by using our strong connections with the county and state to line up funding and programs that are available to assist them,” Turley said.
Although municipal officials aren't necessarily interested in loosening regulations aimed at reducing a development's impact on the community, they provide developers a clear outline of the steps they will need to complete to bring their project to fruition, Turley said.
“We may not always be on the same side of the table or always agree with what a developer wants to do,” Turley said. “But we understand that time is money for businesses, so we can help reduce some of their risk by providing a schedule they can meet.”
Turley said working to keep existing businesses in the community also is critical to improving economic development.
“We certainly want to attract new businesses,” he said. “But that's very competitive; landing them is sort of like hitting the lottery. So we should be doing what we can to help existing businesses that want to expand.”
Tony LaRussa is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-871-2360, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.