HERMITAGE, Pa. – Rod Wilt says being hopeful in a job like he’s about to take on is a requirement, even if that job comes at a less than ideal time such as a global pandemic.
Wilt, of Greenville, Pa., is Penn-Northwest Development Corp.’s new executive director. The agency announced his hiring Sept. 17.
“You’ve got to be hopeful in this position or find something else to do,” he says. “If you’re not an optimistic person by nature, economic development’s not your cup of tea.”
Wilt, who served in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 1997 to 2006, began his new position Sept 28. He was selected from among 60 applicants and succeeds Randy Seitz.
“The board is very excited about having Rod join Penn-Northwest. He has a demonstrated ability to build long-lasting relationships and execute strategies to complete collaborative development projects and attract capital investments that will be extremely helpful in driving the corporation forward,” said John Thigpen, board chairman.
The search committee, which formed in June, spent “countless hours” reviewing applicants for the position, according to Thigpen.
In the private sector, Wilt held positions at First National Bank of Pennsylvania, the Hudson Group and Winner International. He spent more than a decade in real estate and land development ventures.
From 2015 to 2019, he operated the Keystone Energy Forum, an organization formed by the American Petroleum Institute and the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association.
Wilt recently moved back to the area and was looking for an opportunity to re-engage with the community when the Penn-Northwest position became available.
He acknowledged that a pandemic is a difficult time to take the reins of an economic development organization. It might, however, present a “unique opportunity” for an area as rural as Mercer County.
Wilt, who serves on Thiel College’s board of trustees, notes the enthusiasm of the students and parents for the fact that the campus is more rural and “more removed” from the issues plaguing larger cities. “Maybe everything that’s going on nationally might turn things in our corner,” he says.
He also points to potential opportunities as the Pittsburgh area’s population moves further north.
Wilt identified three priorities for Penn-Northwest: expanding the organization’s membership and helping those members enlarge and expand their businesses; marketing the region’s assets and quality of life to people who may want to relocate here; bringing together Mercer County communities and the legislative delegation.
“One of my strengths is working hard to bring people together,” he says.
“In this position, we do have an opportunity to bring together a lot of economic development organizations within the county, whether it’s the chamber or Greenville-Reynolds or LindenPointe,” he continues. “It’s also important to develop the local workforce working with the educational institutions here.”
Wilt and his family have a history of serving the community as elected officials – both his father and grandfather served in the Pennsylvania Legislature – and through community philanthropy, says Sherris Moreira, executive director of the Shenango Valley Chamber of Commerce.
“I look forward to the opportunity to work in a more collaborative manner with Mr. Wilt,” she says.