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Officials speak out against regional effort

| Thursday, Sept. 27, 2001

Armstrong County's industrial park, Northpointe at Slate Lick, was believed by county officials to be the frontrunner for Siemens Westinghouse Power Corp. to build a new $122 million fuel cell manufacturing plant employing 500 workers.

Instead the grounds of a former steel mill got the nod when Siemens announced Wednesday that it had chosen Munhall in Allegheny County as the site for the plant.

The announcement took county officials by surprise and drew severe criticism from the Armstrong County Commissioners.

According to Commissioner Homer Crytzer, Siemens was 'lured away from us.'

The county commissioners said they were told by Siemens up until the last minute that Northpointe was 'a great site, the best site, the only site.'

'Now they're saying that the best site in the world is Munhall,' said Commissioner Jim Scahill.

Scahill said Siemens was to make its decision strictly on an economic basis. And, he said, Armstrong County had a better offer, a package of $7 million - $4 million state money and $3 million from the county - compared to Allegheny's offer of $6 million - $4 million state and $2 million county.

The county was told too that Siemens liked Northpointe because of its 35 acres of green space, it was ready, flat, had infrastructure in place, there was a job market and transportation.

'There has to be a reason,' said Scahill. 'No one has given us a reason. No one has said something was wrong with this site.'

Melanie Forbrink, manager of communications for Siemens, said yesterday that all the sites were 'comparable and competitive' regarding factors such as business costs and incentives offered.

'The only difference was proximity,' said Forbrink. 'All other things were equal.'

Forbrink said it was better for the existing workforce in Churchill, just east of Pittsburgh, to travel the distance to Munhall than to Slate Lick.

According to Forbrink, Munhall was the original site desired but the company was told that it was not an option because of the developer's intent being different for the site.

'It was reintroduced to us and we looked at it with a renewed interest,' she said.

'The entire region still benefits.'

Crytzer would rather put the blame for the turnabout on the government leaders in Allegheny County associated with the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance (PRA) than on Siemens.

'Regionalism died today,' said Crytzer. 'We got shafted by the PRA.'

Crytzer said he's considering not being a part of any alliance with Allegheny County and just looking out for Armstrong County's interests.

Commissioner Jack Dunmire also wants to take a second look at belonging to organizations involving Allegheny County.

'All we get is lip service,' said Dunmire. 'They say everybody works together but never once has Pittsburgh directed one company to Armstrong County out of the region.

'Where corporations locate it's county against county, regionalism goes right out the door.'

Scahill said the county played by the rules and someone else did not. He was unhappy that the Allegheny County group was not forthright with officials here.

'How do you trust anything said down there,' said Scahill.

Scahill said he is pleased, however, that southwestern Pennsylvania was able to keep the company in the region, and he adds he is not entirely ready to give up on the idea of regionalism.

'It brought $100 million (of federal and state funding) into the region, $7 million to Armstrong County,' said Scahill.

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