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Westmoreland seeks input on national community development project

| Wednesday, July 14, 2010

One of the largest community development projects of all time is asking local residents for suggestions.

The Power of 32 will be holding a Community Conversation meeting at Penn State New Kensington on Tuesday.

The Power of 32 is a large-scale community development project that involves 32 counties from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio and West Virginia. The aim of the project is to create a strategy that will help unite and lead the counties involved.

Tuesday's meeting is geared toward Westmoreland County residents who want to voice their opinion about what they think the Power of 32 could do to help the county or the region as a whole.

"Westmoreland County residents need to be heard," said Alex Graziani, executive director of the Smart Growth Partnership of Westmoreland County.

"Westmoreland is the second-largest county in the Power of 32. We need people to come out and tell us about the issues that are most important to them."

Graziani said this will be the third meeting of its kind held in the county. The other two meetings, held in Jeanette and Greensburg, saw about 30 attendees.

The project does not have a list of predetermined issues. All issues will be identified by attendees of the meetings, according to Selena Schmidt, Executive Director of Power of 32.

"After we hear everyone's issues, we will present them to policy experts," said Schmidt. "The policy experts will give us ideas of what we can do. Then we'll go back to the communities and say: 'Where do we want to start?'"

Issues addressed at previous meetings included education, economic development and job growth.

Schmidt said the project wants to eventually hand its findings off to one or more organizations that can help make the proposed changes come to life.

Kevin Snider, Penn State New Kensington chancellor, said the school is excited to host the Power of 32 because, like the school, the project is trying to help advance the community.

"The Power of 32 is a very ambitious project," he said. "Our philosophy at Penn State New Kensington is that there is strength in numbers. The Power of 32 and our underlying issues are the same. There are ways our two efforts can be very beneficial to each other."

According to Graziani, the goal of the meetings is to hear from as diverse a group of people as possible.

"We want to have attendees that go beyond the typical public meeting attendee," he said. "We really want to reach all sectors of society: young, old, low-income, high-income — as diverse as we can get."

"What we want to know is: What do residents think a thriving community should look like in 2025?" Graziani said.

Anyone who wants to attend the meeting is encouraged to register at powerof32.org, according to Graziani.

Graziani said the Power of 32 hopes to hold at least two more meetings in northwestern Westmoreland County.

When picking the counties involved for the project, most were natural fits because of geography and economic demographics, but Schmidt said one other thing stood out.

"When you go beyond the borders of the counties involved, you're going beyond the boundaries of 'Steeler Country.'"

Additional Information:

Coming up

Who: Power of 32

What: Community Conversation

When: 9:00 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Penn State New Kensington Conference Center, Upper Burrell

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