SHENANGO TOWNSHIP, Mercer County — With frequent parallels to his own experience participating in a rebound for the city of Braddock during his time as mayor, Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman dished out a helping of hope Monday to attendees of the inaugural Rising Rust Belt Summit.
"The setbacks we've had in this region, and regions like mine, are right for revitalization and you just need the right support and leadership," said Fetterman.
"I want to be a small part of that."
The summit, focused on economic revitalization in Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio, was hosted by the Shenango Valley Chamber of Commerce in partnership with the Lawrence County Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Fetterman said Braddock lost 90 percent of its population from its 1970s steel mill boom levels of about 20,000, and all of its restaurants and grocery stores.
"Every one of these communities, my community, needed resources," said Fetterman.
"How can a community that's lost, and in our case 90 percent of its population, 30, 40, 50 percent of their population and are struggling so vitally with their tax base, how can they be expected to pick themselves up?"
Fetterman says his community partnered with economic development agencies, local philanthropic groups, charitable nonprofits, public corporations as well as the state to gain the resources needed to revitalize Braddock.
"These places matter" said Fetterman, who promised to be a resource for communities to use for their revitalization projects. "Anything that can make this area more vital, I'm here for it."
The lieutenant governor said he is advocating for Lawrence County and the Shenango Valley by promoting Gov. Tom Wolf's Restore PA proposal, which calls for floating a $4.5 million bond to be repaid over 20 years by a severance tax on shale natural gas extraction. The bond revenues would be used to eliminate blight — a significant problem in Sharon — establish rural broadband access, support green business and address flood mitigation.
"Make no mistake, if this doesn't get enacted, we're leaving $4.5 billion or more dollars on the table for projects that you need in Sharon or New Castle or anywhere in this region," said Fetterman. "Who opposes Restore PA, come to McKeesport and tell me, if it's not Restore PA, what is the answer for places like McKeesport that have hundreds of abandoned homes that are beyond any economic salvageability? What's the answer?'"
He said Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio suffered when the steel industry collapsed in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, but speakers reiterated the importance joining forces to reenergize the area.
"Working together properly is exactly the key to our future," said Sherris Moreira, the executive director of the Shenango Valley Chamber of Commerce. "That our similar challenges can also be met in our similar solutions."
"There's nothing more powerful than the powerful of a partnership," Alex McCoy, executive director of the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce.
Restore PA is $4.5 billion initiative by Gov. Wolf to fund projects to tackle issues such blight and flooding in statewide communities by taxing natural gas companies. It has yet to be passed in the state government.
John Fetterman was mayor of Braddock for 13 years, starting during a period when the city was reeling from the collapse of a U.S. Steel plant that was the center of its community. He has been lieutenant governor since January.
"I can definitively tell you that if Braddock can and did get significantly better, your communities are miles ahead of where my community was," said Fetterman. "You have a trusted friend and advocate in Harrisburg that wants to work with you to do whatever we can to make that happen because these places are truly critical to a healthy Pennsylvania."