NEW CASTLE, Pa. – Lawrence County has a solid core of assets it can build upon to make the region more competitive and attractive to new business and industry, according to an analysis presented Dec. 1 by Garner Economics LLC.
However, the county also has its share of challenges that it must overcome so it can thrive in the years ahead, the analysis shows.
About 70 county stakeholders gathered at The Villa at Medure’s to hear the final results of a study, “Elevate Lawrence County: An Economic Development Action Plan Focused on People, Product, and Place.” The event was sponsored by Forward Lawrence Steering Committee and arranged by the Lawrence County Regional Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Corp.
The 50-page report evaluates the dynamics of the county’s market, demographics and economic status, and provided recommendations intended to accelerate economic growth across the county.
“We asked business people in the community – over 150 of them about how they felt about the business climate,” says Jay Garner, president of Atlanta-based Garner Economics. A large percentage of them presented feedback that delivered low rating related to the business ecosystem, the lack of entrepreneurship, strained labor force and the quality of the labor force across the county.
“We have given Lawrence County a very implementable plan,” he said.
Among the recommendations included in the plan are establishing initiatives to boost population, retain talent, create a more cooperative approach to development and to target industries and businesses that best complement the strengths of Lawrence County.
“Lawrence County has a lot of assets to build from,” Garner said. “The challenge is to make sure everyone is pulling together as a team.”
Garner says Lawrence County is especially fragmented with 27 different municipalities, which sometimes makes it difficult to attain a cohesive, regional economic development strategy.
To create a more uniform approach, one recommendation calls for the development of a “consortium of communities” dedicated to municipal planning, zoning, development, and permitting. Another recommendation is to merge the three area chambers of commerce – Lawrence County, Ellwood City and New Wilmington – into a single organization.
Other recommendations include enhancing marketing efforts across the county, whether it’s promoting industrial parks, business incubators or tourism.
A critical part of the plan consists of proposals to retain population and talent in the region, Garner said. One of these ideas – called Remote Lawrence – would be an effort to attract entrepreneurs who work remotely but live in the community, taking advantage of the low cost of living and other attributes. “It adds more people to the community and it helps build retail,” he said.
Another initiative is the Promise Scholarship, a program intended for graduates of the county’s eight high schools, Garner said. The program would provide tuition assistance to graduates attending a community college or four-year university with the caveat that the student return to Lawrence County and work for a select number of years.
The plan also identifies the type of businesses that the community stands the best chance of attracting. According to the report, those companies engaged in Industry 4.0, agribusiness and small-scale food manufacturing, distribution and supply chain ventures and entrepreneurial development. It also homes in on “experiential” economy businesses such as tourism and commerce, boutiques and specialty retail, and wineries.
Announced in September 2019, Forward Lawrence is an initiative launched by the Lawrence County Regional Chamber of Commerce involving a community assessment to produce recommendations that would serve as the basis for the chamber’s next program of work.
“What progressive communities do is they identify what their challenges are and come together over time and define the resources and solutions to that to make it better,” said Alex McCoy, CEO of the Lawrence County Regional Chamber.
“That’s the path we’re trying to go down – to become a more progressive community that doesn’t want to run from the tough issues,” he said.