Thanks in large part to 73 new economic development projects totaling $346 million in capital investment in Washington County in the past year, the county's Chamber of Commerce said it will open a new office in Southpointe.
"The Washington County Chamber of Commerce is the largest chamber in Washington County and the second largest chamber in the Greater Pittsburgh region," said Barron P. McCune Jr., chairman of the chamber board of directors. "Many of our 1,100 members are located in Southpointe, and we wanted to ensure that they have closer access to our economic development programs, networking events and advocacy initiatives. This access is especially important with our natural gas and energy members as we work together on expanding energy opportunities and partnerships for our entire business community."
Chamber officials last week said the main office on East Beau Street in Washington would remain open. The new office on Southpointe Boulevard will be open by mid-March, said chamber president Jeff Kotula.
The announcement came during a "state of the county" address last Thursday by the county commissioners at the Southpointe Golf Club. Commissioners outlined areas of growth countywide, such as the energy, hospitality and entertainment sectors, spurred by development of the Marcellus Shale and The Meadows Racetrack and Casino.
During the past several years, the county has received $7.7 million in gaming revenue from the casino -- accounting for an additional $25.8 million in public and private investment, commissioners said.
Altogether, the local share account -- which is local government's share of gross terminal revenue generated by the casino -- has generated $52.2 million since 2008.
Most of the projects funded with that money have involved infrastructure, such as sewage and waterlines, along with economic development initiatives and community development projects.
"Once again, Washington County continues to lead the Greater Pittsburgh region in terms of economic development projects, energy production and job creation," said Larry Maggi, chairman of the board of commissioners. "In 2012, our business community announced $346 million in new business investment, which will account for an additional 2,530 jobs in Washington County."
Mr. Maggi pointed to continued growth in the energy sector, where the county ranked first in the Greater Pittsburgh region in natural gas wells drilled and drilling permits issued in 2012.
"With 753 unconventional wells drilled from 2005 to 2012, Washington County's leadership position in our region and state truly earns us the designation as 'Energy Capital of the East,' " he said.
The county is ranked fourth in the state for natural gas wells drilled and second among drilling permits issued in 2012.
Tourism spending in the county also is up, commissioners said, citing a report from the state Department of Community and Economic Development that shows Washington County with the second largest share of visitor spending in the Southwestern Pennsylvania region.
"In their most recent report, the department found that in 2011, direct visitor spending dollars in Washington County was $669.2 million, up from $583 million in 2010," said Commissioner Diana Irey Vaughan. "This is a nearly 15 percent increase."
Specifically, Ms. Irey Vaughan cited the 4.1 million guests who have visited the casino each year since it opened five years ago, and the Mylan Classic golf tournament, which has drawn 66,000 visitors and more than $24 million in economic impact to the region in the past three years.
"The Mylan Classic also has been an exceptional partner in promoting Washington County," Ms. Irey Vaughan said. "Through the event's four-day coverage on the Golf Channel, we have been able to broadcast the county's economic development, tourism and energy opportunities to both a national and international market."
Commissioners also outlined growth in the county's business parks, including Southpointe, Southpointe II, Starpoint and Alta Vista.
They said investment in the county airport in South Franklin is also ramping up, with recent improvements, including runway pavement repairs, fencing and terminal upgrades.
A strategic plan for the airport was unveiled in 2011 and included plans to lengthen the runway and development of aviation-related businesses.
The 350-acre airport is home to 85 aircraft, 41 hangars and seven aviation businesses.
Ms. Irey Vaughan said the county is "actively pursuing" an interchange at the site along Interstate 70 to spur development.
Perhaps the only downside in recent years, according to commissioners, has been the county's fight with local school districts over a countywide property tax reassessment.
The county hasn't conducted a reassessment in more than 30 years, and is fighting a court battle with the McGuffey and Washington school boards, who feel their residents are being unfairly taxed.
"We don't want to waste taxpayer money on a reassessment when the state Legislature needs to change the law," said Mr. Maggi, who said a reassessment would cost about $7 million.
Commissioners also feel a reassessment would result in higher taxes for most property owners, despite a formula promoted by the school districts that indicates that one-third of the taxes would go up, one-third would go down and one-third would stay the same.
"That's propaganda, " Mr. Maggi said. "All you have to do is look North. In Allegheny County, 97 percent of the people's taxes went up significantly."
Mr. Kotula, the chamber president, encouraged business owners and local officials to continue planning.
"It is important to remember that the successes we are experiencing are not accidental," he said. "They are the result of years of strategic planning undertaken by the Washington County commissioners, the business community and our economic development organizations to anticipate future growth and be proactive in developing site-ready business parks. While we, of course, did not foresee the tremendous positive economic impacts of the energy industry 15 years ago, the decisions made then to develop ready-to-go sites made our county uniquely positioned to take advantage of these economic opportunities."
Janice Crompton: email@example.com or 412-851-1867.