Officials brief chamber on area’s economy
Chester and Montgomery counties face similar issues with growth and revitalization needs
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.
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.