NORTHWEST PA. Leaders hear ideas for economic gain

The mountains are scenic, but theyblock television and cell phone signals.
FRANKLIN, Pa. (AP) -- A consultant urged leaders in northwestern Pennsylvania to create a $25 million pool of money and a capital fund to revive the region, which includes the state's fourth-largest city and least populous county.
Business owners, economic boosters and elected officials crowded into a hotel banquet room Friday for a report from a Massachusetts-based consultant recommending ways to reverse population and job losses in the eight counties.
The recommendations by FutureWorks include a marketing campaign to lure businesses to the area, a technical school to keep the region's skilled workers and telecommunications improvements.
Much of the discussion Friday centered on how to unify the largely rural region and pay for the recommendations. The region -- which includes Erie, the state's fourth-largest city, and Forest County, the least populous county -- lacks a central metropolitan area and is divided by the Allegheny National Forest and mountains that block television and cell phone signals.
"Right now it is potpourri of towns and counties and every one of them thinks they can get money from the state and federal government," said Bill Steiner, head of the Northwest Pennsylvania Regional Planning and Development Commission, which paid for the report.
The report suggests consolidating the region's three largest economic development agencies to form a regional agency and do the same for agencies within each county to curtail competition and confusion.
Counties in the region include Clarion, Crawford, Erie, Forest, Lawrence, Mercer, Venango and Warren counties.

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