Washington County shines as economic development ‘winner’
The 10-county Pittsburgh region notched its fifth consecutive year as a top U.S. location for business investment, a Pittsburgh economic development group announced on April 2.
Washington County made its mark by taking the No. 2 spot just behind Allegheny County in the number of economic development deals that were sealed last year among the 10 counties.
During a news conference, the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance said the anchor for the five-year span of sustained economic prosperity and employment opportunities were the 269 economic development deals, or “wins,” across the region during 2012, as well as record-high employment last year, and Pittsburgh’s position as a national leader for job growth in high-wage industries.
PRA, an affiliate of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, presented its annual economic development performance scorecard for the region at the Fairmont Pittsburgh hotel.
“Across all 10 counties of the region and in all five key industry sectors, companies are investing,” said Allegheny Conference Chief Executive Officer Dennis Yablonsky. “The deals of 2012 represent billions of dollars that will further build up the regional business landscape with new and expanded facilities, in addition to the expectation of job creation and retention in coming years.”
According to Yablonsky, the five years of top-performing, sustainable prosperity, as evidenced by a total of 1,315 announced business investment deals and related employment opportunities since 2008, helped to secure a Brookings Institution “recession-recovered” recognition. It cited employment levels, gross domestic product and a return to long-term pre-recession rates of economic growth as indicators of full recovery.
He noted the Brookings ranking is significant, as Pittsburgh is one of only three regions in the U.S. to earn it.
One of the economic “wins” noted by PRA was Aquion Energy, a company that has its roots at Carnegie Mellon University, where Aquion’s proprietary “aqueous hybrid ion” battery was created. The technology has become a commercial product, enabling every market from residential, commercial and industrial, as well as utilities themselves, to store all types of energy.
Aquion Chief Executive Officer Scott Pearson noted the Lawrenceville company now has 120 employees and 300,000 square feet of manufacturing space at the former Sony plant in Westmoreland County, with projections to have 200 employees by the end of the year.
Washington and Greene counties figured prominently in PRA’s top 10 list of project wins, ranked by capital investment.
Second on the list was Consol Energy’s BMX Mine, shorthand for Bailey Mine Expansion, a multiyear, $500,000 capital project in Greene County.
Washington County took the fourth, fifth and ninth spots of the top 10 investment list, with new headquarters projects in Southpointe II by Mylan Inc. ($60 million) and Ansys Inc. ($52 million), along with Perryman Inc. for its purchase of the Houston-based Accellent, which supplies high-quality forgings to the medical device industry. PRA pegged the advanced manufacturing expansion at $20 million.
Last month, Washington County commissioners announced there were 73 new economic development projects in 2012 that accounted for more than $346 million in capital investment.
Jeff Kotula, president of Washington County Chamber of Commerce, who attended the announcement by the PRA, said the county’s No. 2 ranking in development projects among the region’s 10 counties, as well as its ability to place three projects among the region’s top 10 investments last year, speaks to its strength in economic development.
“It demonstrates our continuing leadership position in Southwestern Pennsylvania as an economic development engine for the region,” Kotula said later Tuesday. “It just shows how strong we are down here.”
He added that “while energy continues to drive our economy here,” the local projects on the top 10 investment list also underscore the county’s economic diversification. Mylan is the country’s largest manufacturer of generic pharmaceuticals; Ansys is a global leader in engineering simulation software; and Perryman produces titanium for use in the medical device and aerospace industries.
The 269 regional “wins” of 2012 spanned both announced investment and development projects totaling $3.2 billion in capital investment – the second highest amount since tracking began. Investment projects accounted for $1.8 billion in announced capital outlay – a solid increase over the $750 million recorded in 2011. Development projects totaled $1.4 billion in announced outlay and saw a return to $1 billion-plus levels of development investment.
According to Yablonsky, the projects included 59 in manufacturing, 55 in financial services, 53 in energy, 33 in information technology and 12 in health care.
He also noted existing regional businesses that are expanding remain the backbone of the economy and account for the majority of announced deals. In 2012, 72 percent of the deals (151) involved the expansion or retention of existing companies.
The 269 economic development deals are expected to create 8,388 new jobs in the Pittsburgh region over the next several years. These deals also are expected to retain 3,422 jobs, for a total regional employment impact of nearly 12,000 jobs.
PRA Chairman David Malone, president of Gateway Financial Group, noted the continued high numbers of economic development projects and their related investments help PRA market the region to attract additional companies here.
The latest numbers weren’t lost on Site Selection magazine, which again placed the Pittsburgh region on its top 10 list of locations for business investment, putting it in the company of metro areas such as Atlanta, Chicago and Dallas. Yablonsky noted for the second consecutive year, Pittsburgh was ranked as the magazine’s No. 1 region for business investment in the Northeast.