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New Fayette Foward director hopes to revise strategic plan

| Sunday, Sept. 8, 2002

Fayette County's strategic plan, according to its mission statement, was "established to focus public and private resources in a united effort to improve the quality of life in Fayette County by increasing commerce and employment opportunities." Seven years after its introduction, the new head of the county's strategic planning group anticipates the revision of the plan to begin this fall.

Robert C. Junk Jr., employed by Fay-Penn Economic Development Council as its Fayette Enterprise Community manager, was recently named director of Fayette Forward, the county's strategic planning group. As manager, Junk is charged with implementing the strategic initiatives and trying to move these forward.

Fayette Forward is a private-public partnership of government and public agencies, nonprofit organizations, private sector businesses and professional people formed eight years ago to focus resources on increased commerce and employment opportunities in Fayette County. Fayette Forward was administered by the Fayette Chamber of Commerce and located at chamber headquarters. Fayette Forward relocated to Fay Penn's headquarters in the National City Bank building in downtown Uniontown.

Junk, in a recent interview at Fay Penn's headquarters in Uniontown, spoke about benchmarks in the strategic plan that were met, and what the goals are for the next 10 years. "It's been a real useful tool," said Junk, indicating that many initiatives were realized.

The strategic plan was organized into eight action committees, which were directed to identify concerns, discuss the issues, develop solutions and action plans, record goals met and plan new directions. Action committees included agriculture, business and education, economic development, environmental, infrastructure, marketing and public relations, social conditions and tourism.

Success has been noted by the infrastructure committee. Junk said progress has been made in infrastructure as evidenced by a report that inventoried completed water and sewerage projects in the county and projects planned for the future. Junk said infrastructure has been placed, evidenced by the number of business and industrial parks that have been developed throughout the county in the last five years including Fay-Penn's Technology Park on Route 119 and the county-owned industrial park on Route 40.

The economic development will come and employment opportunities are coming, he said.

"One of the things we have to have is communication. I know people say there is no job growth and no new businesses. There has been some expansion," Junk said.

He said it must be understood that opportunities exist but the county is fighting economic decline that lasted decades.

Fayette County Commissioner Vincent Vicites, co-chairman of the steering committee, said the strategic plan "gives us a blueprint for the future, and focuses on what Fayette County's problems are and how to solve them in a positive way."

Junk said the revision of the plan will start through the fall and winter, and includes holding public meetings to talk about the successes of the plan, speak about benchmarks in the plan that were not completed and finally, develop and identify new initiatives. Junk said there is a database of 4,500 individuals involved with the strategic plan.

Junk said a consulting firm will be hired to gather information from the community. A finished document is expected in Spring 2003 for "the community to use as a document for the needs of the county."

Junk, a native of Fayette County who returned to his roots two years ago, is a strong believer in involving grass roots. Junk, 41, was the former president of the Pennsylvania Farmer's Union, a farming organization representing farmers and rural citizens. He then served on the executive committee of the National Farmer's Union in Washington, D.C.

"With Fayette Forward's Strategic Plan and the Fayette Enterprise Community, I feel I have an opportunity to help others and help the community flourish," Junk said. "This is not Fayette Forward's document. This is Fayette County's document, the citizens' working document."

Junk's job, as he sees it, is to take information from the citizens and identify the real needs. He believes the input of citizens through the community meetings will be crucial, giving many the opportunity to express opinions and providing the community with an opportunity to ask the hard questions.

Vicites agreed that public participation is vital to the plan. He said people should volunteer and voice their suggestions and concerns.

Junk has seen progress in the county and is pragmatic enough to realize that progress and development will not occur overnight. "We have to be, as a community, somewhat willing to take some risks," he said.

"We can't predict the future. As a county, we have to be willing to be a little adventurous but at the same time, be conservative enough to protect the county's investments."

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