Of­fi­cials brief cham­ber on area’s econ­omy

Ch­ester and Mont­gomery coun­ties face sim­i­lar is­sues with growth and re­vi­tal­iza­tion needs

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - BUSINESS - By Brian McCul­lough bm­c­cul­lough@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @wc­dai­ly­lo­cal on Twit­ter

EAST WHITELAND » Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the Ch­ester and Mont­gomery County gov­ern­ments dis­cussed the chal­lenges and op­por­tu­ni­ties their busi­ness com­mu­ni­ties face at a Main Line Cham­ber of Com­merce event held Tuesday at Penn State Great Val­ley.

Ch­ester County Com­mis­sion­ers’ Vice Chair­man Kathi Coz­zone and Mont­gomery County Com­mis­sion­ers’ Chair­man Josh Shapiro dis­cussed is­sues rang­ing from ur­ban re­newal, longterm un­em­ploy­ment and the busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment for man­u­fac­tur­ers to in­fra­struc­ture projects and keep­ing mil­len­nial work­ers in the area.

Coz­zone noted that the big­gest chal­lenges for Ch­ester County “are al­ways trans­porta­tion and hous­ing.”

The county, she said, “is very ac­tive in work­force devel­op­ment” and has pre­served 27 per­cent of its land with a goal of achiev­ing 30 per­cent pre­served.

“That was the top de­sire” of re­spon­dents in a county sur­vey, Coz­zone said of open space preser­va­tion.

Mean­while, the county has in­vested $60 mil­lion in its bor­oughs and the city of Coatesville, she added. It also is try­ing to work with em­ploy­ers to de­velop the work­force of the fu­ture, in­clud­ing hold­ing a re­cent work­force sum­mit at Penn State Great Val­ley.

“We feel we’re pretty poised to ad­dress those chal­lenges,” Coz­zone said.

Shapiro, a Demo­crat who is run­ning for state at­tor­ney gen­eral against Repub­li­can state Sen. John Raf­ferty, pre­dicted good things for Norristown, the county seat of Mont­gomery County.

“First of all, let me say it’s nice to be on a panel and not be at-

tacked by the per­son sit­ting next to you,” Shapiro joked, draw­ing laughs from an au­di­ence of about 40 at­tend­ing the cham­ber break­fast.

Norristown faces ma­jor is­sues with crime and be­ing cut off from ma­jor thor­ough­fares, is­sues that are be­ing ad­dressed, Shapiro said.

There is a $100 mil­lion road project that will con­nect the bor­ough to the Penn­syl­va­nia Turn­pike and a $300 mil­lion project to ren­o­vate the Mont­gomery County Court­house, Shapiro said.

“It will no longer be closed off,” Shapiro said of how the road im­prove­ments will im­prove the bor­ough. Pri­vate com­pa­nies will build on gov­ern­ment in­vest­ments in the bor­ough, he pre­dicted.

“I think 10 years from now one of the big­gest sto­ries is go­ing to be the re­vi­tal­iza­tion of Norristown,” Shapiro said. “And it will have started with the (re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion) of the court­house.”

Shapiro, who won a seat on the county board in 2012, said com­mis­sion­ers have sta­bi­lized Mont­gomery County’s fis­cal sit­u­a­tion, which was in dis­ar­ray when he ar­rived.

The big­gest con­cern for county of­fi­cials is the ques­tion each year whether leg­is­la­tors in Har­ris­burg and Washington will pass bud­gets, he said.

Coun­ties also must find bet­ter ways to deal with the heroin epi­demic be­cause they are re­spon­si­ble for pay­ing for their court sys­tems.

“As tax­pay­ers, that’s be­come a ma­jor cost driver,” Shapiro said, ar­gu­ing that more needs to be done to put ad­dicts in treat­ment in­stead of prison. That change would not only be bet­ter for the ad­dicts but also for tax­pay­ers, he said.

Coz­zone, mean­while, said county of­fi­cials must be re­signed to the fact that there is never enough money to do all the trans­porta­tion projects that need to be done.

With Sec­tion 300 of Route 202 com­pleted, the large road projects next up in Ch­ester County are Route 202 south of West

Ch­ester; the Route 30 By­pass, Route 422 and Route 1.

Both coun­ties re­cently en­acted a $5 fee on res­i­dents when they reg­is­ter their cars. The money it brings in will be used to fix bridges, the com­mis­sion­ers said.

The event orig­i­nally was to in­clude par­tic­i­pa­tion from Delaware County, which the Main Line Cham­ber also serves, but an emer­gency pre­vented their par­tic­i­pant from at­tend­ing.

Cham­ber Pres­i­dent Bernard Da­ge­nais said the cham­ber held Tuesday’s event be­cause it wanted to give its mem­bers a big picture look at the re­gion.

“County gov­ern­ment is on the front lines of deal­ing with ma­jor so­cial and em­ploy­ment is­sues in our re­gion,” Da­ge­nais said. “It’s great to see elected of­fi­cials who are fo­cused on is­sues of sub­stance in a bi­par­ti­san and pro-busi­ness way.”

The break­fast was sponsored by AT&T.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

At the Main Line Cham­ber of Com­merce break­fast Tuesday were, from left: Bernard Da­ge­nais, pres­i­dent and CEO of the cham­ber, County Com­mis­sion­ers Josh Shapiro and Kathi Coz­zone, and Joe Divis, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor ex­ter­nal af­fairs of the Mid-At­lantic re­gion of AT&T.

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