Region scored well in economic development during 2017

Rick Shrum

Observer Reporter

Robotics/Information Technology was the star, but the triumph in local economic development last year was a team effort.

The Allegheny Conference on Community Development and its affiliate, the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, released their 11th annual Pittsburgh Regional Business Investment Scorecard Tuesday – and the 10-county region emerged as a winner.

“2017 was a pretty good year for us,” PRA President David Ruppersberger said during a conference call from Pittsburgh. “Overall projects were up five percent, and investment was quite good.”

PRA collects and analyzes economic development data from Washington, Greene, Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Indiana, Lawrence and Westmoreland counties. “We think the data provides insights into what is going on in the regional economy,” said Jim Futrell, vice president of marketing and analysis for PRA.

Among the major findings:

  • Deals made Robotics/IT the “Most Active Sector” for the first time;
  • Capital investments topped $5.5 billion, the third highest total in the Scorecard’s 11 years. Investments in health care and energy infrastructure were keys;
  • Manufacturing continues to be strong, finishing second in “Most Active” sectors;
  • Existing companies continued to expand, making up 67 percent of all investment deals.

Robotics/IT also led all sectors in job creation. The Scorecard said the average IT job in the region paid $94,000 a year, compared with a regional average of $54,000.

“Manufacturing and energy led in capital investment,” Ruppersberger said. “Robotics was mostly in Allegheny County. Energy was predominantly in the nine surrounding counties.”

Washington County played a significant role in the energy part of that equation. The Scorecard said there was $1.7 billion in energy infrastructure investment in the region last year, and five of the seven major energy projects it listed were based in the county.

“The report demonstrates the continued importance of our core industries,” said Jeff Kotula, president of Washington County Chamber of Commerce. “The report shows the impact that energy has had not only in the region, but Washington County. And it will continue to grow as midstream and downstream opportunities develop.”

Jenn Beer, the Allegheny Conference’s vice president of government relations, did issue a concern. “Tax rates (in Pennsylvania) are a bit higher than in other states. The conference is focused on development. We want to make sure workforce opportunities are in place.”

Kotula echoed that sentiment, adding, “We have to be careful in our discussions about a severance tax or any tax that may hinder development. We feel that is really a threat to not only Washington County, but Western Pennsylvania.”

As for 2018, now one-third completed, Ruppersberger said, “We’re expecting stable growth. We’re seeing some early upticks. Energy is stable, we’re seeing strong capital expenditures. IT and robotics are off to a strong start.”

All of that, of course, will be addressed in the 12th annual Scorecard.