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Penn Township targets growth with new economic development committee

Jacob Tierney
| Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018, 5:36 p.m.

Penn Township is hoping to jump-start commercial and industrial growth with a new economic development committee.

“We haven't really made any efforts to promote our township. We've been very reactive, not so much proactive,” said Larry Harrison, the commissioner who is spearheading the endeavor.

Penn Township has long been considered a primarily residential community — and there are more housing developments on the way. About 87 percent of the township's taxable property is residential.

“We want to diversify the real estate tax base,” township manager Alex Graziani said.

The committee is still in its earliest stages. Harrison and Graziani met this week with planning commission Chairman Phillip Miller and community development Director Bill Roberts to hammer out the basics, including who should be on the final committee and what its focus should be.

Harrison said he wants to focus on promoting office parks, light manufacturing and other industrial development, not so much retail businesses. Penn Township wouldn't be able to compete with other retail hubs like Monroeville, Murrysville, Irwin and Hempfield, he said.

To be successful, the committee will have to complement, rather than duplicate, the work done by existing organizations like the Westmoreland County Industrial Development Corp. and the Westmoreland County Chamber of Commerce, Graziani said.

Part of the challenge is giving Penn Township an image makeover, Graziani said.

“I think historically, Penn Township has been improperly perceived as anti-business, anti-industry, anti-growth,” he said.

The township used to have a lot of regulations in place that could make it hard for new businesses to take root, but that has changed, he said.

In 2014, the township passed a tax break for commercial and industrial developments, and a new zoning ordinance opens up more rural land for business use.

The tough part will be letting businesses know what the township has to offer, Harrison said.

“I think we have to work with ... some of the business associations to let them know that Penn Township exists,” he said.

Harrison said he plans to continue advocating for the construction of a long-debated slip ramp that would link the Pennsylvania Turnpike to Route 130. The turnpike passes through Penn Township but doesn't have an exit there. Changing that could be a boon to businesses, Harrison said.

“For business, I think we have a lot to offer, particularly if we can get the slip ramp in on Route 130,” he said.

Harrison and Graziani will present their suggestions for the committee to the Penn Township Board of Commissioners for consideration next month.

Jacob Tierney is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6646, or via Twitter @Soolseem.

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