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Westmoreland’s comprehensive plan unveiled

November 20, 2018

In the next decade, Westmoreland County could become a restaurant hub, home to a multi-sports complex and a leader in industrial hemp production.

Those potential projects and dozens of others were unveiled Monday in the county’s comprehensive plan, which is expected to guide local leaders in how to increase the population in the next 10 to 15 years.

Two open house sessions to discuss the plan will be held at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Nov. 1 at the Palace Theatre in Greensburg.

The county commissioners are slated to approve a draft version of the 110-page document in December.

“It’s comprehensive and hits on everything,” said Westmoreland County Commissioner Ted Kopas. “I think it sets ambitious but achievable goals.”

The plan identifies seven core objectives and offers 38 strategies designed to enhance the local workforce and grow the county’s population, which has been on the decline for decades.

Planners spent $309,000 in the last two years conducting public forums, meeting with local business and government leaders and residents to determine seven factors addressed in the plan. They include linking workers with employers; promoting arts, recreation and tourism; enhancing local towns; improving housing; converting to a modern economy; and upgrading transportation.

It divides the county into seven regional planning districts and specific proposals, ranging from technical changes and a shift to promote business and industry to specific wish-list ideas.

One proposal in the plan would transform the county into a restaurant hub to attract businesses and new residents to downtown areas. The effort would necessitate legislative changes to encourage brick-and-mortar eateries and well as pop-up establishments and food trucks.

County Planning Director Jason Rigone said the proposal could attract a younger workforce and additional jobs.

“The statistics suggest there’s a lot of opportunity for this,” Rigone said. “More and more people are going out to eat with the families, and if we can reposition our downtowns, it will be a benefit to the county.”

Planners also pitched the development of a modern, multi-discipline sports complex to attract tourism and national events as well as a large-scale convention center.

The document suggests enhancements to bolster technology to attract new business and industry and an upgrade of public transportation, including new bus service, ride sharing and commuter rail service to Pittsburgh.

Meanwhile, a section of the plan calls for the county to “embrace hemp” and serve as a leader producer of the crop that can be used for hygiene, health care, textiles, construction and clothing.

Chad Amond, president of the Westmoreland County Chamber of Commerce, said hemp production is a viable new industry for the county. The chamber is hosting a program about the hemp industry next month in Hempfield.

“We need to come together as a community to make Westmoreland County a better place,” Amond said.

Costs associated with enacting elements of the comprehensive plan have not been set. That will come as each item is considered over the next decade.

“We really tried to challenge ourselves and look at things in a new perspective,” Rigone said.

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