Officials bullish on Washington County's economy

Rick Shrum
Observer Reporter

The state of Washington County’s economy was the topic Thursday morning, and the consensus among officials was ... the state is great.

“Washington County continues to maintain a leadership position in our region and state in creating economic growth, job opportunities and countywide expansion,” Larry Maggi, chairman of the county commissioners, said in helping to kick off the seventh annual State of the Economy presentation.

The county Chamber of Commerce again orchestrated the event, which unfolded at the Hilton Garden Inn Pittsburgh/Southpointe. An audience approaching 400, many of them regional business leaders, heard Maggi and commission colleagues Diana Irey Vaughan and Harlan Shober speak. The board also participated in a lively Q&A with moderator Jeff Kotula, the chamber president, and fielded several audience questions.

Two Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission officials – chief executive officer Mark Compton and chief engineer Brad Heigel – also were on hand for a presentation on the Southern Beltway project. And Nathan Snyder, senior vice president for Janney Montgomery Scott LLC, elaborated on economic trends.

Economy was the theme inside the Cecil Township ballroom, though, and on a day when the Pirates launched their season, a bagful of financial statistics were pitched around. They included these county-related figures from 2018:

  • It attracted 88 economic development and infrastructure projects for $559,966,796 in capital investment. That resulted in an additional 725 jobs.
  • The county invested another $7.4 million and leveraged $11.7 million through its Local Share Account, courtesy of slots revenue generated at The Meadows Casino.
  • Washington County played an integral role in Pennsylvania’s 14.2 percent increase in shale gas production over 2017. The county accounted for about 29 percent of that statewide jump.
  • Washington was second among the state’s 67 counties in natural gas production, with 1,164.3 billion cubic feet from 1,504 wells.
  • About $7.3 million in gas and oil impact fees ended up in the county.
  • The county’s current unemployment rate – 3.7 percent – is way down from 4.9 percent for January 2018.

While Maggi touted the energy industry’s role locally, Vaughan noted an uptick in manufacturing. She mentioned a gaggle of companies that have expanded and are expanding in the county, and singled out a number of them in the Monongahela Valley.

She said: “The strength of our manufacturing community, especially its expansion in the Mon Valley, clearly demonstrates that Washington County manufacturers are creating jobs and new growth through innovation and investment in their facilities and workforce.”

Shober praised the LSA element, which he said not only “has invested more than $98 million in new economic, community and industrial development projects since 2008,” but has resulted in the leveraging of an additional $396 million through matching funds.

All three commissioners shared some interesting perspectives during the Q-and-A, when Kotula asked more than a half-dozen county-related questions.

Each bemoaned the county reassessment, the normally non-strident Vaughan lashing out, “No good came from the reassessment. We spent $9 million on that, money that could have been used elsewhere.”

Maggi added, “It solved nothing.”

The prospect of enacting a severance tax on natural gas extraction concerns Shober and Maggi, who don’t want that to supplant the impact fees that are distributed to counties and municipalities where drilling occurs.

“We want to keep what we have in place,” Shober said.

“They don’t want to call the impact fee a tax. Well, it is a tax,” Maggi said.

Washington County wasn’t the only entity to be applauded at the event. Mary Stollar, senior vice president of economic development for the chamber, was praised as she heads into semi-retirement. Today is her last day as a full-time employee.

The commissioners honored Kotula on his 20th anniversary as chamber leader.

It was a bountiful day for the county – and more.