Located just thirty minutes from downtown Pittsburgh, Armstrong County is positioned to grow rapidly over the next decade. With available industrial parks, leasable facilities, workforce training, start-up assistance, tax incentives, business loans, and an outstanding quality of life, Armstrong Country is the ideal place to start or grow a business. As the old adage goes, it’s a great place to work, live, and play.
To promote the area and inform companies of all the county has to offer, the Armstrong County Industrial Development Council (IDC), Armstrong County Tourist Bureau, and Alle-Kiski Strong Chamber of Commerce work cooperatively. “All three organizations work cooperatively together, although we try to stay in our own lanes,” says Mike Coonley, Executive Director of the IDC.
The IDC is a 501(c)(3) non-profit Pennsylvania Corporation that works in conjunction with its sister organization, the Armstrong County Industrial Development Authority. Both organizations are staffed by the County’s Department of Economic Development and all work closely with a very active County Board of Commissioners. Both economic development organizations are led by Coonley, who has been with the county for twenty-eight years, and executive director for the past decade. Maintaining fiscal autonomy, the IDC reimburses the county for all staff time, healthcare, supplies, and other costs associated with developing and running the organization.
The IDC today has two focal points: business attraction and business retention/expansion, with more emphasis presently placed on keeping existing companies in the area.
“It is sort of like protecting your capital in an investment,” states Coonley of the many industries that have invested in the county. The IDC is there to ensure they are thriving by developing close relationships, identifying opportunities and potential problems, and serving as an information resource.
The council helps to address the needs of businesses, including workforce development and financing, and has access to various state and federal programs that are advantageous to businesses. It also puts companies in touch with the right people.
“We joke around here that we don’t do a whole lot directly; we’re facilitators,” says Coonley. “We don’t always have the exact information or answer that a company needs, but between myself, my staff, the partners that we have, and other organizations like the tourist bureau and the chamber of commerce, we can typically track down the information.”
Armstrong County has large traditional employers such as hospitals, schools, government entities, and manufacturing. It also has a wider range of industries, from small specialty manufacturers with a handful of employees up to larger companies with several hundred workers, such as Cook Medical, a national medical device manufacturer.
In addition to the industries identified above, Armstrong County companies include those from the financial, life sciences, agribusiness, mining, and oil and gas sectors. Companies such as Rosebud Mining and Snyder Associated Companies from within the extractive fields have a strong history and will continue to play an important role in Armstrong County. Since there is a healthy mix of businesses, the area is not linked to any one industry and is less likely to experience economic downturns, as has happened to many other communities.
However, to ensure that local manufacturing companies are able to attract and maintain a viable workforce, Armstrong County works with school districts, workforce investment boards, and employers. It fosters student-parent forums to expose youngsters to available opportunities in manufacturing. These ‘manufacturing’ jobs include positions in information technology, engineering, technical work, welding, assembly, accounting, human resources, and other areas. The goal is to change perceptions about manufacturing being a ‘dirty’ job.
Armstrong County’s location continues to be an industry driver. The Allegheny Valley Expressway (State Route 28) is a four-lane highway passing through the heart of Pittsburgh and Armstrong County. The expressway intersects with U.S. Route 422 and Interstate 76 (Pennsylvania Turnpike) providing east and west travel options and connections to Interstate 79. The Pittsburgh area is fast becoming known as a world leader for emerging technologies in artificial intelligence, robotics and autonomous vehicles. The proximity to Pittsburgh makes Armstrong County an ideal location for companies looking to commercialize these emerging technologies.
“It is my hope that the emerging tech companies are going to recognize that when they are ready to commercialize their products, Armstrong County and the Allegheny Valley have the technical manufacturing expertise and industrial sites that they will need to grow,” states Coonley.
The county has an online presence to tout its industrial sites, but also promotes the area through face-to-face meetings, tradeshow conferences, and other methods. It partners with larger regional economic development organizations including the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, and the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, to piggyback on some of their larger tradeshow initiatives.
The largest of the sites, Northpointe is a 925-acre technology park along the Allegheny Valley expressway at Exit 18. The tenants include local and regional businesses as well as a Fortune 500 company. Northpointe includes several large pads that are in a designated Keystone Opportunity Zone (KOZ), which includes a ten-year tax abatement of various state and local taxes including sales and use, real estate and corporate taxes.
The park currently contains seventeen companies, the Penn State Electro-Optics Center, and the Indiana University of Pennsylvania Northpointe branch campus. This modern facility has abundant power and five independent sources of redundant fiber. This infrastructure led two data centers to select the Northpointe location for new investment. Involta, headquartered in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, opened their $16 million state-of-the-art data center in 2017.
There are available build-ready sites with pads ranging from six to twenty acres, and all necessary utilities are in place – including roads, water, telecommunication, a state-of-the-art sewage treatment facility, and more, so construction can begin immediately. “We are able to fast track that type of development, which is incredibly important to developers and business owners,” says Coonley. “I also believe that our facility is the only one along the expressway capable of providing lots of that size.”
A co-working office space called Innovate 28 has now opened in the Northpointe Technology Park with an eye on making things as convenient for small businesses as possible. Innovate 28 offers all business necessities, including conference room access, broadband and 24/7 access, and since monthly packages are as low as $75 per month, the space is ideal for start-ups and established businesses alike.
“Because it’s membership-driven, you aren’t worried about locking yourself into a long-term lease,” says Coonley of Innovate 28.
A plan for a ‘simulation utility training city’ is in the works. The Critical Infrastructure Workforce Academy (CIWA) will contain assorted neighborhoods, including residential, commercial, and industrial. The students and workers being trained for the growing utility industry will have exposure to classroom, laboratory and field training scenarios. The IDC will be partnering with several established, best-of-class training organizations and has recently been awarded a $750,000 grant to start the project.
“This is the first step in a unique project that will assure reliable services – gas, electricity, water, sewer, and telecommunications – are safely delivered to homes and businesses across Pennsylvania,” said Senator Don White (PA 41st) in a release. “The Critical Infrastructure Workforce Academy is being developed within Northpointe to fill an existing void of properly trained workers in the utilities and energy sectors. Training our current and future labor force for the quality jobs available in the utility infrastructure sector must be a top priority for our region, and this funding will begin that effort.”
As the existing workforce in these industries ages and retires, the need for trained new workers increases, and CIWA will help these infrastructure sectors meet future demand.
Other parks within the county include the Manor Township Business Park, Parks Bend Farms Industrial Park and West Hills Industrial Park. West Hills, located at the intersection of the Allegheny Valley Expressway and U.S. Route 422, is an established park that has recently undergone a 230 acre expansion. Housing 22 businesses and a nationally recognized community hospital, the expansion area has multiple building sites and, as with Northpointe, a Keystone Opportunity Zone.
The IDC collaborates with the Alle Kiski Strong Chamber of Commerce and the Armstrong County Tourism Bureau. The Alle Kiski Strong Chamber of Commerce is a business and community network that brings members together to connect and interact, with a focus on improving and growing the region. It is under the leadership of Executive Director Lynda Pozzuto. The Armstrong County Tourism Bureau is run by Executive Director Jamie Lefever and actively promotes tourism through the Destination Marketing Organization. Formerly known as the Tourism Promotion Agency, their mission is to engage people outside the area to come see for themselves all that Armstrong County has to offer.
“In addition to offering pad-ready sites in our industrial parks, our downtown business communities are seeing an uptick in activity and investment,” says Lefever. Of particular note is the recent investment made in downtown Kittanning, the county seat. A committee of downtown business owners, county staff and elected officials was formed and a collective decision was made to improve the central business district. The improvements included eliminating one-way streets, removing overhead wires, laying new sidewalks, planting trees and installing historic-style street lights, traffic signals and parking meters. The private and public investment in the downtown Kittanning streetscape project, totaling $8 million and growing, had led business owners to improve the façades on their buildings.
Lefever added, “We’re really well positioned for the ‘shop local’ movement. You can still buy a suit or a dress in downtown Kittanning, eat a delicious meal, pick up your prescription at the pharmacy, all within walking distance of the trails along the Allegheny River. There are storefronts and offices available should new businesses want to open. As Mike said, our organizations try to stay in our own lanes but the line is sometimes blurred by the exciting things happening here.”
“A significant quality of life asset that we have is the Allegheny River,” says Pozzuto. With 52 miles of the Allegheny River bisecting Armstrong County, the river has been designated an official water trail and is an extremely popular destination. Maps identify the launches and camping facilities, so visitors can enter in the upper Allegheny and spend days or even a week kayaking, canoeing, or boating down the Allegheny with identified stopovers and camping spaces. “Additionally, we have over 100 miles of biking and hiking trails along with rock climbing, camping, hunting and fishing. In a nutshell, Armstrong County has all of the outdoor activities within a short drive of a major metropolitan area like Pittsburgh. There aren’t too many counties that have everything in one place, and we do.”
“I’ve talked to people who are on the trails along the rivers who just like to get out of the city, come to look at the nature and the beauty, and enjoy a quiet time on a weekend getaway,” says Lefever. “So the trails are definitely attracting people who don’t get opportunities in an urban area. Kayaking has also become a big sport, and they are coming here for that.”
Armstrong County welcomes businesses and visitors alike. “Armstrong County is a wonderful place to live, work, and play,” states Pozzuto. “We really have it all. Here you’ll find a workforce that’s skilled and well-educated. Plentiful sites at cost effective rates should put Armstrong County on most any company’s search list. But don’t take our word for it. Find your next opportunity in Armstrong County.”