Grants Seed Economic Growth in Lawrence County

NEW CASTLE, Pa. — Businesses looking for some extra capital to get projects rolling in 2019 have until Jan. 31 to apply for state grants through the Lawrence County Economic Development Corp.

Grant writing and management is one of the services that the Lawrence County Economic Development Corp., or LCEDC, provides for free to existing and start-up companies in the county, said its director of economic development, Linda Nitch.

“The application process is open right now,” Nitch said. “So if people have a big project, they should be considering making an application to the state of Pennsylvania.”

Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, or RACP, grants are used to match private investment for construction projects that use eligible properties and create jobs in the county. Last year, LCEDC helped secure more than $3.5 million in RACP grants through the state that directly benefited economic development projects in the county, she said. Nitch reviewed those projects at the Lawrence County Regional Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Update, attended by about 45 business and community leaders on Friday.

Steelite International benefited from a $1.5 million RACP grant for its construction project off of Interstate 376. A few months ago, the company started the $4 million-plus project to expand its warehousing and distribution operation by 52,000 square feet. The project will be completed this year, Nitch said.

“Steelite is a great success story,” she said. “The fact that they are not only here, but also they’re within the region. They’ve gone over into Youngstown so that they can also have facilities over there to highlight the high-end tableware that they have.”

Other RACP grants include $1 million awarded to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 712 for the construction of its new apprenticeship training center on a six-acre lot in the Neshannock Business Park, and another $1 million awarded to Medart Inc. to allow the machinery manufacturer to renovate and expand its Clyde Street plant by some 10,000 square feet, for a total of about 65,000. Medart, which serves the metals industry, looks to start the project this spring and complete it by the middle of 2020, and hire another 20.

LCEDC helped apply for and manage other grants for area projects, including a $1 million grant to purchase and redevelop the former New Castle Refractories property for the McClymonds Intermodal Complex. Added to the $5.4 million in private investment dollars from Mark McClymonds, president of McClymonds Supply & Transit Co. Inc., the project demolished five buildings, installed rail and utility lines, and renovated the remaining office building. The project created 44 jobs, Nitch said.

“We’ve gone from very blighted buildings to a site that is cleared and that has a rail spur on it,” she said. “Mark [McClymonds] does a lot with salt, slag, and it is an activity that creates a lot of truck driving jobs.”

A $78,000 grant through the USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program helped the New Wilmington Economic Development Committee expand its Fresh Marketplace farmers market and promote it. The market is in the third year of a three-year grant contract, which has helped to boost vendor sales more than 300% and draw 10 times as many visitors, she said.

Adjacent to the Steelite building, the 50,000-square-foot Millennium Park multi-tenant building owned by the LCEDC is fully leased to Steelite, but is expected to be vacated once its expansion project is complete, she said. This year, a $242,000 grant awarded by the Appalachian Regional Commission will fund completion of the final build-out of Millennium Park.

In 2019, brownfields redevelopment will be a major focus for the LCEDC, Nitch said. It will begin Phase 2 of an environmental study of the former Shenango China site, “which is one of only 11 sites that has rail that were identified within a parameter for the [Royal Dutch Shell] cracker plant,” she said.

LCEDC and the county have secured $200,000 through the Environmental Protection Agency Brownfields Assessment Program to evaluate the type and levels of contamination at sites in New Castle to bring viable industrial and commercial properties back into use, including the Shenango China property.

“We’re going to be going out for proposals shortly to hire a consultant to help get the investigative work done there,” she said.

Fewer than 30 miles south of New Castle, the Royal Dutch Shell ethane cracker plant is an “unbelievable project,” she said. The $6 billion project is expected to be online by 2021.

“The impact on our county will be great in the coming years,” she said.

Other development projects in the county include the Holistic Farms Marijuana Grow Facility, which is directly adjacent to the McClymonds Intermodal Complex. In January 2018, the company began operations in the renovated former Snark Boats manufacturing building at 911 Industrial St., and is on track to create between 100 and 150 permanent jobs once it reaches full capacity, she said.

The Pennsylvania-American Water Co. completed construction of a $50 million, dual-source water treatment plant in New Beaver, increasing daily capacity to eight-million gallons, up from 5.2-million, to provide safe drinking water to some 18,000 consumers in Ellwood City, Ellport, New Beaver, Koppel, Perry, Wayne, Franklin, North Sewickley and Jackson townships in Lawrence and Beaver counties. Additional construction can further expand capacity to 16 million gallons.

Ellwood Group Inc. has nearly completed its $60 million, 110,000-square-foot building that will house a steel remelt operation for high-alloy steels serving the aerospace and defense markets, Nitch told those gathered. The group is the largest industrial employer in the county, she said, “and we’re very blessed to have that company here and the kind of workforce that they have created, as well as the investment that they continue to make in our county.”

Construction continues on the Hickory Run Power Station, which should be operational in April 2020, she said. The $863 million natural gas-fueled electrical generation plant in North Beaver Township will supply 1,000 megawatts of power to the region, enough to power more than a million households. Construction has created 500 full-time jobs, and the station will employ about 20 full-time jobs when operational.

Container Services Inc. of Hillsboro, Kan. purchased a 45,700-square-foot from Wish Development in the Neshannock Business Park. The manufacturer of plastic containers will start with two shifts of up to 75 workers to serve markets in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan.

LCEDC and the Borough of Ellwood City are helping to finance the $1 million renovation of the former Industrial Tube Cleaning building at 416 Pittsburgh Circle in Ellwood City for Creekside Springs. The 44,000-square-foot building will be used for warehouse space, but could eventually house a part of Creekside’s packaging operation. Creekside provides all of the bottled water for the Shell cracker plant project.

New York Blower finished the $4.7 million, 30,000-square-foot expansion of its building in the Shenango Commerce Park. The Illinois-based company will retain 18 jobs and create 22 full-time jobs there.

Though industry drives the lion’s share of development in the county, commercial development is “relatively strong, especially in Union Township where the Walmart plaza is, as well as in Neshannock Township,” she said. While commercial development lags in Shenango Township and others, “they’re working hard to try to correct that.”

Service-related commercial development would make the best sense for the area, such as call centers, financial and insurance services, she said.

Wish Development completed construction of the Ward’s Ridge office complex at 101 Nesbitt Road, which now houses the Pennsylvania Department of Health — Division of Vital Records and Janney Financial Advisors. The complex includes three buildings at 10,000, 13,000 and 8,000 square feet.

“We do a lot of work in the industrial corridor,” Nitch said. “I’m glad that there is new commercial activity going on in Lawrence County. Wish Development is certainly one of our premier developers.”

Another Wish project nearly finished is the UPMC School of Nursing and Radiology located at 2414 Wilmington Road in the former Commercial Printing building. The school is set to open this month to provide an enhanced, modern learning environment for its first class of 55 students.

VentiSei Winery opened in a former schoolhouse at 1409 Wilson Ave. Owners Denny Flora and his uncle, Rick — who is chief winemaker — bring more than 10 years of winemaking experience.

Companies in Lawrence County benefit from close access to highway transportation, including I-376, I-76, I-80 and I-79. This is particularly beneficial to manufacturers, suppliers and customers, Nitch said, and she expects that access to drive additional development in warehousing and distribution — something Nitch believes to be areas of future growth for Lawrence County.

“You’ve got the Amazons of the world, all of the Dollar Generals, Family Dollars and all that need these distribution centers,” she said.

Other benefits include utility access from FirstEnergy Corp., Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania, Peoples Gas in western Pa., and the Pennsylvania-American Water Co.

“Our sewer systems are in good shape,” she said. “New Castle [Sanitation Authority] is creating more value with the services that they’re offering because they’re also doing storm-water work.”

The workforce is better educated as well, she said, though declining population has been a challenge. Baby Boomers are retiring and “we do not have enough people who have the correct skill sets to go along with what the jobs are,” she said.

To address that issue, LCEDC has apprenticeship programs with manufacturers in Lawrence and Mercer counties, as well as Mahoning Trumbull and Columbiana counties in Ohio. Top employers in the area including UPMC Jameson and the Ellwood Group, she said. Other primary employers include financial and insurance service providers.

Apprenticeships and other support services offered by LCEDC were made possible after the organization became part of the chamber of commerce in 2017, Nitch said.

“The mission is a little bit different when you’re sharing that alliance,” she said. “And that is to be that creative force regarding leadership coordination. We’re trying to transform lives together.”

Among the services offered, the Lawrence County Learning Center in the Pennsylvania CareerLink Lawrence County building at 102 Margaret St. provides amenities for existing or start-up businesses.

“If you’re a business that needs some computers, needs some space, it’s here all the time for you,” she said.

Another result of the partnership was the first Leadership Lawrence County class in nearly 20 years. The 17-student class was introduced in October 2018, and includes representatives of the health care, manufacturing, real estate development, service, government, social services and education industries. It was born of a need for more leaders in the county, Nitch said.

LCEDC collaborated with Westminster College and the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development from the University of Georgia to provide education modules for leadership, and introduce people to activities in the county. The nine-month program includes multiple training sessions to educate the participants in how to be more effective leaders, and will conclude with the completion of a class project.

One of the students is Michelle Lem, director of respiratory at UPMC Jameson, said it’s been a humbling experience to learn of all the community services available to address important issues like poverty. Eric McIntosh, vice president of human resources for UPMC, encouraged Lem and others to take part in the program, she said.

“You get caught up in your daily life and you don’t realize how many people out there are really in need,” she said. “So being able to offer service or offer assistance of some sort that the group can collectively do to make an improvement in Lawrence County, I think is a good thing.”

Nitch also recognized the fourth annual Economic Development Impact Award winners, who were announced on Sept. 28. They include the New York Blower Co, Pennsylvania American Water Co., Butler County Community College, New Wilmington Fresh Marketplace, UPMC Jameson and the R.A.R. Engineering Group. Jennifer Price, an instructor at the Lawrence County Career and Technical School, received the Transforming Lives Together Award.

Pictured: Linda Nitch, director of economic development for the Lawrence County Economic Development Corporation, addresses some 45 business and community leaders at the Lawrence County Regional Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Update on Friday.

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