Lawrence County Chamber Secures $50K for Forward Lawrence Program

NEW CASTLE, Pa. – With the announcement of a $50,000 award to support the Forward Lawrence initiative, the head of the Lawrence County Regional Chamber of Commerce wants members of the western Pennsylvania community to feel invested in the plan it will develop.

“This was one of the final pieces we were looking for before trying to get underway,” said Alex McCoy, the chamber’s CEO, after announcing the Appalachian Regional Commission had made a grant award to the chamber.

The ARC award brings the amount the chamber has raised for the initiative to $173,000. With the funds, the Lawrence County Regional Chamber of Commerce will create a countywide community and economic development plan by gathering input from community stakeholders on all facets of life in the county. 

In addition to the ARC award, Forward Lawrence has also received $74,999 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and another $48,000 was raised from local stakeholders. The chamber committed to spend up to $12,000 toward the initiative, though the chamber will be investing staff resources as in-kind services for the project as well, McCoy said.

“For every industry, there are specific environmental attributes that they look for in terms of places where they can set up a location or headquarters and do business,” said John Cournan, president of the chamber’s board of directors. 

Forward Lawrence presents an opportunity to unite the community behind an effort to determine what the county has to offer and  “to put our best foot forward” in targeting specific industries, he said. 

“Rather than sit back and wait for opportunities, we have an opportunity to sell them on why it makes sense to do more business in Lawrence County,” he continued. 

The chamber hopes to have a project consultant on board by March, McCoy said. In consultation with ARC and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the chamber will put out a request for proposals to seven firms that responded to the chamber’s request for qualifications and choose a consultant from that pool of responses. 

“We’re envisioning at the moment putting together a steering committee for Forward Lawrence made up of government officials, industry leaders and other nonprofits to help pick which of the consultants ultimately will be the one chosen,” McCoy said. 

Though he couldn’t say that the coronavirus pandemic “fully impacted” the Forward Lawrence initiative, he acknowledged how it will impact the process is “a great question.” 

He had envisioned conducting at least eight community sessions in four regions of the county to gather input on the plan, but is now looking forward to seeing how the consultants “solicit community impact in some meaningful way that generates the data that we’re looking for,” he said. 

That might wait until later in the process to improve the chances of conducting meetings safely because a vaccine might be developed or mask wearing, social distancing and other measures have mitigated the spread of the virus.  

He also said if the chamber secures additional funds, it could expand the scope of the consultant’s work. 

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