The study will be part of the county's plan for future economic development.
By LAURE CIOFFI
VINDICATOR NEW CASTLE BUREAU
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- Lawrence County is going to have to change direction if it wants see any significant economic growth, according to a real estate consultant.
County officials should shift their plans for economic development east toward the Interstate 79 corridor and look for more housing development and less manufacturing, said Stuart M. Patz, a real estate consultant from Herndon, Va., hired to study the county's potential for business and industrial growth.
"You need to diversify your employment base and improve demographics. You need subdivisions with higher-priced homes," Patz said.
Bleak outlook: Lawrence County's present demographic outlook is bleak with an aging and dwindling population where 40 percent of the households earn less than $25,000 per year, the consultant said.
Lawrence County didn't benefit from the economic boom of the 1990s, only attracting lower paying manufacturing jobs and about 800 new homes, he said.
"All communities have to be careful not to base their economic strategy and employment growth on manufacturing. Manufacturing is important, but you can't control its growth and its not-high income," he said.
The key to growth is the county's proximity to Pittsburgh and the I-79 corridor, Patz said.
Route 60 corridor: County officials, however, have recently focused most of their development efforts to the Pa. Route 60 corridor, which links Lawrence County to the Pittsburgh International Airport and other major highways, including U.S. Interstate 80 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
Patz said there is already enough infrastructure and property available for more development in that area.
The I-79 corridor, however, is inching north and south of Pittsburgh where businesses and home owners are looking for more space at a lower cost, he said.
Development in that portion of Lawrence County, which includes Plain Grove Township, could be difficult which no public sewage or water in place.
But Patz said other communities have focused on long-range plans where counties took out bond issues and got state grants to help bring sewage and water to areas for new development.
Development in other parts of the county, especially the cities, is likely to remain stagnant, he said.
"You already have more land than you can shake a stick at. You have many vacant buildings. The problem is they are all in one spot and nobody wants them," he said.
Image problem: Patz said the county also has to work on its image before attracting new businesses and residents. Most see Lawrence County as a low income area with older property, he said.
"You need to get higher-income people in this area. When you do you get a better image and better business," he said.
Patz recommended the county beef up the staff at the Lawrence County Economic Development Agency and give it more direction to help implement some of his recommendations.
Patz's report will be used as part of the county comprehensive plan, a blueprint to future growth in the county.
County planning director James Gagliano said the comprehensive plan should be finished sometime later this year and will serve as a development guide for all communities.