You may have heard about a project called Power of 32. It takes its name from the 32 counties in western Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland included in its footprint – a region which some might identify as North Central Appalachia, although nobody likes the stigma associated with that title, so it remains nameless, at least for now.
There are more than four million people who live in that region, and the project’s stated goal is to develop a shared vision for their future – a vision which would presumably help to guide the 2,000 units of government and countless private institutions that fall within its boundaries.
Several large Pittsburgh-area foundations are funding the project, which involves numerous local meetings and open-ended community conversations. Former state senator Allen Kukovich is its spokesman, and overall leadership is being provided by a 51-member steering committee, consisting mainly of representatives from the private sector as well as a handful from the public sector. Along with a couple of mayors and county commissioners, I am one of the latter, representing municipal governments.
I agreed to take on that assignment to make sure the aspirations of our region’s suburbs, smaller towns, and rural areas didn’t get drowned out by the preponderance of urban interests represented on the panel. So just for the record, here are the ideas I want to inject into the project’s thinking:
• People from around here tend to stay in this region and so do their children. They have choices, but they find this area to be livable, affordable, comfortable and family-friendly. We don’t want to lose those qualities by trying to transform ourselves into something that’s not consistent with those core values.
• It’s always nice to attract new investment from elsewhere to boost the local economy. But we need to nurture those businesses which are already here and encourage them to expand. We also want to help individuals here to become more entrepreneurial so they can create new opportunities at home.
• We want to encourage residents of each community to remain engaged with their local governments. Municipalities in our region tend to be more responsive, cost-effective, and creative in dealing with problems than larger units of government. We don’t want to lose their ability to personally engage residents by imposing consolidation or mandates on local governments.
• Our region includes a variety of communities with different histories, topographies, economies, and cultures. That variety is a strength. Respecting those differences rather than trying to homogenize them, will serve as a source of continued strength.
• Finally, while Pittsburgh is the largest municipality in the Power of 32 area and enjoys a number of wonderful resources, it represents less than eight percent of the region’s residents. We are a multi-centric region, not a uni-centric one, and our public policy priorities need to make sure that through this collaborative process, all parts of our region remain healthy.
Cranberry Township’s Municipal Center will host a Power of 32 Community Conversation beginning at 6:30 on Thursday, September 23. No advance registration is needed. Just stop in. We look forward to hearing from you. In the meantime, if you have any concerns you would like to share on this issue, please send me an email: Jerry.Andree@Cranberrytownship.org.