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McKeesport Stakeholders respond

| Sunday, Sept. 1, 2002

We are responding to the public death knoll placed on the City of McKeesport by David Rusk, a self-styled urban policy expert and municipal naysayer, who apparently has worked so long with statistics that he has overlooked the value and worth of the human spirit. We only need to look 15 miles downstream — to Pittsburgh, the phoenix rising out of the ashes — to know that the iron will of western Pennsylvania is as tough as the products we produced in our mills.

While we don't deny the reality or seriousness of the city's decline, we vehemently reject the "100 percent odds against" McKeesport's turning around. The "three milestones of decline" that he cites are real enough and serious enough to challenge any community that is faced with them. However, if we look more closely than Mr. Rusk's methods permit, we may find that they reflect a monumental shift in resources that will ultimately present themselves as "miracles of recovery."

For example, the growth in a minority population is troubling only if that class of human capital is kept away from productive lives within the economy. With unified education and training, this deficiency rapidly converts into a work force asset. Likewise, seniors represent a wealth of heritage and wisdom. Properly engaged, they are amazing resources.

The Mon Valley was and is a regional asset, with McKeesport as its center city. The legacy of this community, as the steel manufacturing capital of the world, runs deeper than a generation or two. Indeed, the grit in the mills made its way into the DNA of its children; and, perhaps to the surprise of Mr. Rusk, they are coming back, infused with new energy and new ideas to rekindle and revitalize this town and the Mon Valley.

Over the past six months, a group of "stakeholders" from McKeesport has been meeting on a regular basis to develop a strategy that will provide McKeesport with a competitive edge and sustained economic development. A regional problem requires a regional solution — and a strategy that will once again have McKeesport and the Mon Valley competing in the global economy, not against ourselves.

McKeesport is dealing with poverty and blight, but the glass half-full shows tremendous opportunity for revitalization. Along with a world-class university, a world-class health care institution and a major employer anxious to double its employment rolls, McKeesport has a base of smaller manufacturers poised for a technology infusion to upgrade their facilities and processes — and western Pennsylvania is just the place to do it.

With our regional assets and industrial clusters in specialty steel, digital electronics, robotics, supercomputing, medical devices and tissue engineering, and initiatives such as Design-Led Manufacturing and the Doyle-TIDE program, it is not too difficult to imagine a resurgence of advanced manufacturing in the Mon Valley — beginning right where it once seemed to end, the former National Tube site. These new companies will be joining existing employers like EchoStar Communications, Steel City Products and Genesis Environmental.

Additionally, the rivers that are finally being appreciated for their beauty and recreational opportunities will provide the opportunity for renewed commercial activity. The railroads are still servicing the area, and, yes, even the quality of life in McKeesport is something to write home about, with cultural assets like the McKeesport Little Theater, McKeesport Symphony, the Marina at McKees Point, rails to trails and Renziehausen Park.

The leaders of McKeesport's business, industry, civic, educational and social communities understand that business as usual or incremental solutions will not work, but a true paradigm shift in our thinking and our planning can and will. We will, over the next few weeks, announce a major initiative that will re-establish the former National Tube site as an engine for sustainable economic growth in the region.

Working with our Regional Partners and former McKeesporters, whose bonds and commitment to the city and to the Mon Valley are unshakable, we will show Mr. Rusk not what is wrong with Pennsylvania but what is right.

His timelines have simply short-sighted him. You can't lose 90 percent of your industry and 50 percent of your population and expect to recover in a couple of decades. We ought to know — our lives and our livelihood depend upon it.

McKeesport Stakeholders Team

The McKeesport Stakeholders Team was formed in March to develop an economic development strategy for McKeesport, focusing on differentiating the former National Tube plant from other brownfield sites in the Mon Valley. Members are:

  • Bethany Budd Bauer, McKeesport director of community development
  • Jim Brewster, president, McKeesport Council
  • U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle
  • Ed Digangi, vice president, EchoStar Communications
  • Wayne Kucich, McKeesport mayor
  • State Sen. Sean Logan
  • State Rep. Thomas Michlovic
  • Steve Morgan, director of Allegheny County Economic Development
  • Ron Ott, president and CEO, UPMC McKeesport
  • Richard Pearson and Mary Del Brady, BioSpace Development Co.
  • Dennis Pittman, chairman, McKeesport Industrial Development Authority
  • Curtiss Porter, CEO, Penn State McKeesport
  • Brooks Robinson Jr., director of marketing, RIDC
  • W. E. Strickland Jr., president and CEO, Manchester Bidwell
  • Chuck Starret, executive director, McKeesport Redevelopment Authority
  • Stephen Tomaino, McKeesport Area School District superintendent
  • Connie Yarris, executive director, Regional Business Alliance

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