Penn-Northwest Names Wilt as Executive Director
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, is Penn-Northwest Development Corp.’s newly hired executive director. The agency announced his hiring Thursday.
“You’ve got to be hopeful in this position or you’ve got to find something else to do,” he says. “If you’re not an optimistic person by nature, economic development’s not really going to be your cup of tea.”
Wilt, who served in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 1997 to 2006, begins his new position Sept 28. He was selected from among 60 applicants and succeeds Randy Seitz. In June, the Penn-Northwest Board of Directors voted to not renew Seitz’s contract as president and CEO of the agency.
“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, in announcing Wilt’s hiring.
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.
He had 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.
“I always enjoyed working on economic development when I was in the state House,” Wilt says.
He acknowledged that the midst of 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 to be successful.
In considering the potential impact of coronavirus on economic development, 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’s area’s population moves further north.
Pennsylvania competes for economic development projects with its surrounding states, particularly Ohio. “So we constantly need to work on our tax and regulatory environment at the state level to make sure we are competitive,” he says.
Wilt identified three priorities for when he joins Penn-Northwest: expanding the organization’s membership and helping those members enlarge and expand their businesses; marketing the region’s assets to people who want to relocate here so they can take advantage of the quality of life and amenities; bring together Mercer County communities and the legislative delegation.
“One of my strengths is working hard to bring people together,” Wilt says.
Initially, Penn-Northwest needs to make sure the organization is well-regarded at the state level, in both its legislative and administrative arms, and make sure Pennsylvania leaders are confident in how any investments they make are going to be used.
“Alongside of that, I think 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 continued. “It’s also important to develop the local workforce working with the educational institutions here.”
The search committee, which formed in June, spent “countless hours” reviewing applicants for the position, according to Thigpen.
“I could not have been more impressed by the professional effort put forth by this group of volunteers,” he says. “The overwhelming positive response to the position exceeded our expectations and the quality of candidates was outstanding.”
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, observes 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.
Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.