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Grata: Highways boost Valley economy

| Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Last week's column focused on improvements at the Interstate 70 Smithton Interchange and how businesses have been attracted there.

Consider this to be "Part II."

I-70 has existed for a half-century, but it seems as if the road has been a fabric of our lives forever.

Although in need of improvements, it provides the Mid-Mon Valley with a fast, convenient means of east-west travel to Washington, Greensburg, Wheeling, I-79, the Pennsylvania Turnpike and, from there, virtually anywhere.

Good for us.

When a major bridge over the Mon River near Brownsville is finished in June, 60 continuous miles of the Mon/Fayette Expressway will be open, giving us a non-stop southern route to Uniontown, Morgantown, I-68 and, from there, again, virtually anywhere.

On the other hand, people tend to overlook the opportunities, jobs and potential tied to I-70 and the newer Mon/Fayette Expressway.

Example: At Westmoreland County's I-70 Industrial Park, located just off the Smithton Interchange, more than half of the 600 acres have been sold or are under option for development.

A Dick's Sporting Goods regional warehouse (600,000 square feet) is the biggest company and biggest employer (650 jobs) among eight businesses.

The other largest local business and industrial enterprises located in proximity to the two major highways are:

n Alta Vista Business Park - Four tenants occupy its 256 acres along I-70 in Fallowfield Township. Two others are on the way.

Owned by the Middle Monongahela Industrial Development Association, the business park's major occupant is Progeny Systems, a high-tech engineering firm whose clients include the military.

PennDOT has begun planning an upgrade at the Bentleyville Interchange similar to the Smithton Interchange - work that will improve safety, accommodate growing traffic at Alta Vista and serve nearby trucking and hospitality spinoff businesses.

n Speers Industrial Park -- MIDA also oversees this 80-acre site that has been around for a while just off I-70. Its 11 businesses include General Industries, a locally-owned construction company, and a professional office building.

n California Technology Park -- The Washington County Redevelopment Authority established this economic magnet near the California Interchange of the Mon/Fayette Expressway and only a few miles from I-70.

Nine tenants include Pennatronics, a state-of-art electronics manufacturer whose products include computerized circuit boards. Construction is under way on an 84-room hotel that'll boost California University of Pennsylvania and its new convocation center.

n Donora Industrial Park - While a four-lane Mon River bridge and a four-lane highway link the 256-acre site to I-70, Norfolk & Southern RR freight service also helps lure companies there.

It's another MIDA initiative, an old "brownfield" once occupied by major metals manufacturing companies but converted into a development with 30 smaller businesses and specialty firms. That's a total of 65 businesses providing more than 3,000 jobs in five local industrial parks in large part because of our transportation infrastructure.

The key, common element is I-70, and now the Mon/Fayette Expressway in growing numbers, to receive materials and supplies, distribute products, provide services and enable people to get to work.

Even in a slow economy, business prefers the fast lane.

Thought du jour - The most frequent comment of criminals and politicians is "no comment."

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