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MERCER COUNTY Development agency seeks ways to attract young people



Published: Tue, November 20, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Pennsylvania will help fund projects designed to stop the brain drain.

By HAROLD GWIN

VINDICATOR SHARON BUREAU

MERCER, Pa. -- The Penn-Northwest Development Corp. is looking for some good ideas to attract and keep young people in Mercer County.

The idea search is part of a statewide effort launched by former Gov. Tom Ridge called "Stay: Invent the Future Challenge Grant Program."

The program will provide about $400,000 in grants for the eight-county region of northwestern Pennsylvania that includes Mercer and Lawrence counties.

In addition, the state has set aside about $3 million in competitive funds for statewide distribution for regional or multicounty projects.

"Basically, it's a big push to solicit ideas," said Bradford Ehrhart, assistant director of Penn-Northwest, Mercer County's lead economic development marketing agency.

Penn-Northwest, like agencies in the other counties in the region, is putting out a request for project proposals, primarily targeting educational, nonprofit and governmental agencies, but would also like to hear from any private groups or companies that might have suggestions, said Larry Reichard, executive director.

It could be internship programs, educational programs to inform young people of what companies and jobs are available locally or providing a greater public exposure for businesses wanting to attract young job seekers, he said.

Must match grants: Anyone or any agency securing one of the challenge grants to implement a project must match that grant dollar-for-dollar, Ehrhart said.

The situation is serious in Mercer County, he said, pointing out census data that shows that, in 1990, the county had lost 6,890 of the 18- to 24-year-olds who had lived here in 1980.

By the 2000 census, another 3,970 of that group, now in the 35-to-44-year age bracket, had left the county, he said.

The Internal Revenue Service reports the county lost 304 heads of households between 1999 and 2000, and that translates to a net loss of more than $11 million in aggregate adjusted gross income for the county, Ehrhart said.

Aging population: Further, the county's median age rose from 32.1 in 1980 to 39.6 in 2000, a sure sign that the population is aging.

There is a need to attract and keep young people here, he said, noting the ideas project is open to all suggestions.

The program is offering some seed money for grass roots approaches in every county, Ehrhart said.

Project submission forms are available from Penn-Northwest or at www.team.org. Completed proposals must be e-mailed to info@penn-northwest.com or mailed to Penn-Northwest at 151 Northwest Diamond St., Mercer, Pa., 16137, no later than Dec. 11 for ranking.

Top county proposals will then be ranked by a northwest district steering committee beginning Jan. 4.




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