Forward Lawrence County Advances to Next Step

NEW CASTLE, Pa. – From the rural base to the north to a more modern, small-town feel to the south, Lawrence County, Pa., encompasses many facets in its nearly 360 square miles.

Forward Lawrence respects the differences in Lawrence County but ultimately seeks to merge these sectors into one economic vision to encourage business retention and attraction, says Linda Nitch, director of economic development for the Lawrence County Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Announced in September 2019, Forward Lawrence’s mission is to gather community input and engage a consultant to provide an assessment of the county, its strengths and areas of improvement. The results will be used to target industries and business sectors that make sense to pursue for economic redevelopment.

Currently, six consulting firms have bid on the project. Proposals are due by March 12, says Alex McCoy, chamber president and CEO. The consulting piece of the Forward Lawrence project has a budget range of $115,000 to $125,000 plus travel expenses, he adds.

Through grants and other efforts, the chamber has raised $182,999 to fund Forward Lawrence, McCoy says, including $74,999 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Business Development Grant program, $50,000 from the Appalachian Regional Commission and $58,000 raised by the community. Working with Eric Karmecy from West Central Job Partnership, the chamber’s steering committee met Feb. 10 to appoint a subcommittee to review the proposals. The chamber is budgeting about $5,000 to pay for outreach sessions with community leaders and volunteers as part of the selection process, McCoy says.

Five other organizations and 18 individuals have been invited to be part of these discussions, making sure the community’s collective voice is heard, McCoy says. Among them are the Lawrence County commissioners, township supervisors, mayors and other elected officials from communities in the county, Len Rich from the Lawrence County Career and Technical Center and Kimberly Kollar-Jones from the Hoyt Art Center in New Castle. Other partner organizations are chambers of commerce representing the Ellwood City and New Wilmington areas, Visit Lawrence County, New Visions for Lawrence County and the United Way of Lawrence County.

“We’re trying to have a very broad swath of people looking at economic,  workforce and community development in a holistic approach examining the whole community,” McCoy says.

Karmecy says companies that are considering expansion in Lawrence County take an in-depth look at all aspects of the community. The consulting firm selected for the Forward Lawrence program should give the county the introspection it needs to create a unified economic development plan, he says.

“Let’s have some honest dialogue about what are our deficiencies, what are our strengths and give us some recommendations as a result of their research and conversations that they have with leaders and residents of the community,” Karmecy says.

When companies and other businesses scout potential sites, they are looking for a vision, Nitch says. They’re interested in seeing what assets and strengths a community has, she says, including what employees will have available outside of work.

There could also be areas within the county where a few municipalities work on similar projects together, McCoy says. He encourages the sharing of limited resources and focusing efforts “to magnify the impact for the community.”

County assets include skilled labor forces, proper water and sewer infrastructure, gas infrastructure availability and characteristics of land and sites buildings, he notes.

Infrastructure work completed over 2020 has made the area more attractive as well, he says. The new gas-fired Hickory Run Energy Center in North Beaver Township commenced commercial operations in May 2020 and produces electricity for the pool of power from Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey. The Pennsylvania American Water Co. upgraded its amenities in the county as well.

Pictured: Linda Nitch, director of economic development for the Lawrence County Regional Chamber of Commerce, and Alex McCoy, president and CEO, say the Forward Lawrence initiative will unite communities throughout the county behind a single economic and community development effort.