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Appalachian Regional Commission grants awarded

| Monday, Sept. 6, 2004

Armstrong County is not considered "distressed" in the Appalachian region, but Ford City, which has had its share of economic hardship, received a $100,000 Appalachian Regional Commission grant for a nearly $400,000 Ford Street revitalization project.

"Because Ford Street is our main business district, revitalization of that street is very important," said Donna Kornasiewicz, executive director of the Greater Ford City Community Development Corporation. "Ford City lost PPG in 1993, and that was 300 or 400 jobs," Kornasiewicz said. "Eljer is another employer that laid off another 200. Manufacturing in Ford City is really going."

Appalachia, as defined by the federal government, includes 13 states from New York to Mississippi. Most of Pennsylvania is included in region.

The commission classifies Appalachian counties into four categories: distressed, transitional, competitive, and attainment. These are based on unemployment rates, per capita income and poverty levels from the U.S. Census.

Armstrong County is called transitional because its numbers in these categories hover close to but above national averages, according to Rick Peltz, alternate federal co-chairman of the commission.

From 2000-2002, unemployment was at 7.1 percent -- just below the national average. Per capita income is 6 percent above the national average.

In 1993, Ford City was classified as a distressed municipality by the state Department of Commerce, but it has risen above that status since.

In fact, the county doesn't have any distressed tracts, according to the Appalachian commission.

"In many places, you don't have a distressed county, but there are distressed areas," Peltz said.

The only two distressed counties were Greene and Fayette, but they pulled ahead and are now considered transitional. Allegheny County is the only one in the state at the highest level, attainment.

"Traditionally rural areas like Armstrong have lower rates than urban areas," said Rich Palilla, executive director of the county planning office. "Programs like the (regional commission) exist to address those inequalities.

"(The commission) is designed to supplement grants from other agencies," Palilla said. "The ARC has been very beneficial and has provided grant revenue." Peltz said the state and county matched the grant.

The Ford Street project, which covers about two blocks, will include water and sewer line replacement, storm sewer work, new bricking, and landscaping.

"Basically there will be a whole new landscape to area," Kornasiewicz said. "We're very delighted to get this."

Construction could start next spring.

The borough worked with the county and state to apply for the grant.

The county was made aware of ARC grants through Rep. John Murtha, D-12th, who suggested the county apply, said Carmen Johnson, assistant director of the county planning office.

"These grants are an important part of our overall economic rebuilding effort in Armstrong County," Murtha said.

We're pleased about the plans for Ford Street because the work will support the creation and retention of jobs and help attract businesses, Murtha said. "This is encouraging news for Ford City because it indicates that the local economy is on the mend."

Tribune-Review Media Service contributed to this story.

supplemental grants

In addition to Butler County's Slippery Rock project and Ford City's revitalization, the Appalachian Regional Commission awarded five other supplemental grants.

  • Armstrong County received three others for infrastructure in industrial parks at Parks Bend, $292,000 in 1989; West Hills, $225,000 in 1999; North Pointe, $85,000 in 2001.

  • Butler County received $200,000 to redevelop land for business in Clinton Township in 1999.

  • In Westmoreland County, Seton Hill College received $12,500 in 2004 for a feasibility study on a business incubator to help start-up businesses.

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