Westinghouse center goes to Cranberry
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An artist's rendering of the planned Westinghouse headquarters and research facility in Cranberry.
When John Milius heard yesterday about Westinghouse Electric Co.'s decision to leave Monroeville and bring more than 3,000 jobs north to Cranberry, he called it a "great day for our region."
"Westinghouse has been a pillar of the Pittsburgh area's economy for more than a century," said Mr. Milius, chairman of the Cranberry supervisors. "Cranberry is flattered to become the steward of that legacy."
Graphic: Site map
Westinghouse's plan to build a 775,000-square-foot, $140 million nuclear energy campus in Cranberry Woods, an office park at the corner of Interstate 79 and Route 228, was the subject of fist-pumping celebration yesterday in fast-growing Butler County -- and in Harrisburg, where state economic development chief Dennis Yablonsky hailed the move as "a huge win."
Mr. Yablonsky cited the average salary of $70,000 that will be paid to at least 1,000 new workers that will come with the expansion, in addition to the 2,150 high-paid workers moving from Monroeville and Churchill, and the fact that the research facility could have been built in another state altogether, such as North or South Carolina. "It's a great story," Mr. Yablonsky said.
Only Monroeville was not in the mood to celebrate. A local official involved in the effort to keep Westinghouse in that eastern Allegheny County town was "stunned" and "disappointed" by the decision.
"It is like losing a family friend," said Chad Amond, president of the Monroeville Area Chamber of Commerce. "Westinghouse has been an integral part of this community for 35-plus years and losing them, it stings, it really does. It stings."
Westinghouse is the largest employer in Monroeville, with 1,900 people, and its 585,000-square-foot campus is a major source of tax revenue for the Gateway School District.
By the end of 2010, there's concern much of that will be gone. Westinghouse expects to be permanently established in Cranberry by then, and Monroeville leaders worry that local run-off business will vanish, too.
"Westinghouse is our No. 1 client," said Lance Rihn, general manager of the Radisson in Monroeville. "It's 5,000 room nights per year with our hotel." The loss of such a large employer means "I just have to go out and find new business. It's going to impact the Monroeville area and community."
The competition between two communities from separate counties was politically delicate from the beginning.
Both offered to forgo taxes for 15 years and become one of Gov. Ed Rendell's Strategic Development Areas, free of all state, local, county and school district taxes. The package in Cranberry will save Westinghouse $3 million a year.
While the economic development derby between Cranberry and Monroeville never got nasty, both sides had concerns about the other, and that tension was still there yesterday. Back in December, when Westinghouse narrowed its search to two sites, state Sen. Sean Logan, D-Monroeville, complained openly about the potential use of tax incentives to shift jobs from one part of the region to another.
Asked about that yesterday, Mr. Amond of the Monroeville chamber admitted to mixed emotions.
"We wish the folks in Cranberry nothing but the best as part of this deal," he said. "Having said that, it is difficult for us to really sing the praises of this decision as a step forward in terms of economic development in southwestern Pennsylvania.
"Essentially what has happened is the pieces have been moved around the chess board. From a broader perspective, it is a great thing for Pennsylvania that Westinghouse stayed [in the state]. From a regional standpoint, it is difficult to argue there is a net gain to the region in making this move."
He added: "It is a difficult pill to swallow to imagine that tax incentives are being used for that purpose. It is what it is."
Mr. Yablonsky, secretary of the state Department of Community and Economic Development, said he understands Monroeville's disappointment but argues that it was better to keep the 1,000 new jobs than lose them to another state. "I believe we all have to think regionally about these kinds of things," he said.
Cranberry was not exempt from competitive concerns, either. Some in that Butler County community were privately critical of the lobbying done for Monroeville by Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato, someone who defines himself as a regional politician.
"Many of us were upset" by Mr. Onorato's actions, Butler County commissioners Chairman Scott Lowe said yesterday. "We in Butler County have always tried to promote regionalism. But, it seems like there are some in Allegheny County who have a vision of regionalism that ends at their county line."
Mr. Onorato, who could not be reached for comment, issued a statement saying the decision, while disappointing for Monroeville, is still a "testament to our region's competitiveness."
In the end, Westinghouse chose Cranberry for reasons of cost and future convenience.
The move to a flat 80-acre site in Cranberry Woods, an office park owned by O'Hara-based MSA, formerly known as Mine Safety Appliances, will save Westinghouse $10 million over the cost of adding new office and parking space at the Westinghouse Energy Center in Monroeville, a sloped site of 138 acres where Westinghouse first moved in 1971.
Westinghouse needs more space to fill a worldwide demand for nuclear power plants, including four in China. Westinghouse expects to add at least 1,000 workers over the next five years, and it's possible that the number could grow to 2,000.
Westinghouse, which employs about 3,450 people in southwestern Pennsylvania, will keep about 1,300 employees currently located in Blairsville, Madison and New Stanton in their existing facilities.
Construction of the new Cranberry complex will begin within three months, the company said yesterday. Westinghouse's preliminary plans are for three office buildings, the first 406,000 square feet and the next two 182,000 square feet apiece.
A fourth building would be planned later, if growth goes as expected. Detailed site plans are expected to be submitted to the township in May. It will likely take will take three or four months to complete the approval process.
The plan is for the company's nuclear power plant unit to move during the first half of 2009. Employees currently in Monroeville and Churchill will follow, with everyone expected by year-end 2010.
Before construction can begin, three taxing bodies need to sign off on the tax abatement package -- Cranberry, the local school district and the county.
No one reached yesterday expected that to be a problem.
"What are we going to do?" said Jerry Andree, Cranberry Township manager. "Say 'No' and have them go to North Carolina and get the governor mad? That's not going to happen. This what the governor requested of us and each of our supervisors has indicated support for the project. They believe it is good for southwestern Pennsylvania."
Forgoing taxes for 15 years means Butler County would give up about $224,000 annually, the township would waive $135,000, and Seneca Valley School District would pass on $1 million a year.
Nevertheless, "I see it as a boon for the community and for our students," said Seneca Valley Superintendent Don Tylinski. "The potential ancillary benefits, in terms of jobs and even in terms of connections for our students is profound,"
The superintendent could not predict how his board would vote on the issue, but he acknowledged a 6-3 vote late last year in favor of the concept.
Butler County commissioners Chairman Lowe said he is certain he and his fellow commissioners will vote in favor.
"We are on board with this. We're behind it 100 percent," he said. "Yes, we're giving up taxes, but it's shortsighted to emphasize that. We're all about bringing jobs to Butler County, and these aren't minimum wage jobs. These are high-paying jobs. How could we not be in favor of this?"
First Published March 21, 2007 12:00 am