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Valley News Dispatch

Westmoreland faces 3 big challenges, community members say

| Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016, 12:31 a.m.

Six days after a room of 20 people at Penn State New Kensington diagnosed inclusion, transportation and resistance to innovation as the biggest problems facing Westmoreland County, a similar group of community members offered a similar assessment of the county's outlook.

On Monday, at the site of the future Knead Community Cafe on Barnes Street in New Kensington, close to 30 people voted transportation, lack of perception leading to misunderstanding and lack of technology and other jobs as the county's three biggest challenges.

The vote wrapped up the fifth workshop devoted to “Reimagining Our Westmoreland,” a comprehensive plan and policy document expected to be completed in early 2018.

While the brainstorm, led by Smart Growth Partnership of Westmoreland County Executive Director John Turack, led to the same point for the second time in less than a week, its participants went a step further.

Several in attendance linked the challenges back to a key theme presented by the Westmoreland County Department of Planning & Development: Westmoreland County's population trends are bleak, in part, because there are few incentives for young people to move there.

New Kensington Councilman Dante Cicconi said the question “what attracts people to a place?” is one he thinks of often with respect to New Kensington.

“I want people when they come back home to see their parents to drive through town and say, ‘Oh, look at New Kensington. This actually feels like something,” he said.

A negative perception of Westmoreland County urban areas like New Kensington was discussed in detail Monday, particularly as it relates to education.

Carly Skinner, 37, of New Kensington, sat across from her two young children when she said low district test scores make the city less desirable to people with young children who are looking to move.

Though the workshop solicited broad assets, challenges and solutions encompassing the entire county, Turack recognized that part of Monday's meeting was to make sure places like New Kensington have input in the comprehensive plan.

Said New Kensington Mayor Tom Guzzo, who attended both workshops in the Alle-Kiski Valley: “They provide everyone in this part of the county an opportunity ... in reshaping and reimagining the future.”

While many Westmoreland County challenges addressed Monday were localized to New Kensington, certain challenges, like declining population, have come up at every workshop throughout the county, Turack said.

Citing Pennsylvania State Data Center figures, he said the population issue is widespread. From 2000 to 2015, he said, the only Westmoreland County communities to see population increases were Allegheny Township, Murrysville and North Huntingdon.

Andrew Erickson is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-226-4675 or aerickson@tribweb.com.

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