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Meet the man behind Westmoreland County’s comprehensive plan

November 8, 2018

Brian Lawrence didn’t know his life’s path until he started work at a pizza joint while still an undergraduate at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

“I started working at Tom’s Pizza, and a coworker told me his major was geography and urban regional planning. I was majoring in political science and that was the first time I heard planning was a profession,” Lawrence said.

It was that peak into the future of a potential new career after a past in which he said he became enthralled with planning after playing the Sim City computer game where users build entire communities from scratch.

More than a decade later, Lawrence now serves as a deputy planning director for Westmoreland County and is overseeing a two-year project to draft the county’s next comprehensive plan.

The 100-page document, slated to be released Oct. 29, is expected to outline how the county will attract population and job growth over the next 10 to 15 years. It also is expected to serve as a blueprint to reverse Westmoreland’s aging and dwindling population.

The plan is the culmination of work over the last 24 months in which more than 5,000 residents and business leaders helped identify future needs and proposals to lure a younger workforce.

“I’m more excited about the opportunity to help our county to implement these things. These are the things that inspire me, helping communities realize their potential. That’s what I am most hopeful about as our community begins to work together. We’ll go nowhere if we can’t work together,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence, 35, of Greensburg, went to work as a county planner in 2010 after earning a master’s degree from IUP. By late 2016, he was assigned the job to lead the effort to craft the county’s second-ever comprehensive plan. Last year, he was promoted to serve as one of two deputy directors of the planning department.

In his role heading up the comprehensive plan effort, Lawrence was out in the community talking with residents at weeknight and weekend meetings for input into what locals felt the county needed to make it a better place to live and work. It was time he had to spend away from his wife and three young children.

“This has been my first long-term, large-scale plan,” he said. “As a planner, this is sort of our big deal. It’s our Stanley Cup Final.”

Jason Rigone, director of the county’s planning department, said the comprehensive plan will reflect Lawrence’s commitment to the project.

“Brian has showed strong leadership to help the plan come to fruition,” Rigone said. “His sincere interest in seeing the county improve is not just a job for him, it’s a personal effort.”

Public input again will be sought before county commissioners approve the plan, possibly Dec. 20.

“I’m not too terribly concerned. The public won’t find it opposes their beliefs,” Lawrence said. “We engaged so deeply with them. I believe this is something the community can buy in to.”

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