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Commissioners collaborate, discuss common problems at First Friday event

Collaboration is a key to success. When counties in Western Pennsylvania work together to solve common problems, more can be done.

That was the theme in mind Friday morning as the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce held its “First Friday” program via Zoom, with a panel discussion by commissioners from three counties in the region.

Commissioners Kim Geyer of Butler County, Nick Sherman of Washington County and Loretta Spielvogel of Lawrence County offered insight into their counties and the issues they face.

President of the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce Matt Smith started the event with an introduction of the panelists along with an overview of the goals of the region.

“We have strong and vibrant counties throughout the region,” Smith said. “We want to make sure we are building bridges and continuing with our partners throughout the region on both sides of the aisle.”

Leaders speak on gas well production

Energy was among the topics discussed in Friday’s panel discussion.

Geyer spoke about how Butler County is doing in this sector, specifically its involvement with LOLA (Locally Owned, Locally Accountable) Energy.

LOLA is headquartered in Canonsburg, but it has property that is used in northern Butler County.

“We continue to have drilling,” Geyer said. “Last week, we were at LOLA Energy. LOLA stands for locally owned, locally accountable. We have a new team in there with 23 people working full-time.

“I can’t say enough good things about Marcellus Shale. It’s really been a game-changer for our county.”

Butler County is third in the state for gas well production, Geyer said, but the neighbor to the southwest may have a leg up.

Washington County has earned the reputation as the “energy capital of the east” — a title that their residents see the benefits from, according to Sherman.

“Washington County is poised for greatness,” Sherman said. “This is because of the natural gas reserves we have. We have more natural gas wells than any other county in the state.

“When oil and gas came back, not only did jobs come back in the industry, but local restaurants that had not been open since the 1980s were open again.”

“Washington County could double production tomorrow, but we don’t have the ability to take our product to market,” Sherman said.

The federal government’s regulations hinder the success of natural gas drilling which leaves less money on the table, Sherman said.

“We can produce it. The world needs it. We just need to connect the dots,” he said.

Commissioner Spielvogel said Lawrence County leans more on agriculture and tourism than gas drilling, but the county could use more coordination between municipalities.

“We had so many different identities with municipalities doing their own thing,” Spielvogel said. “I don’t think we are a rural county because we have industry, but we are better off to work with the southern counties or the northern region.

“We got a little of each, but not enough to be where we need to be.”

Need for broadband in rural areas

Both Geyer and Spielvogel addressed the need for better internet services in the rural parts of their counties, which they say decreases the younger population in their counties.

“As a commonwealth, we need to work harder to keep our young people here,” Geyer said. “We need to recognize that fiber broadband used to be part of water and sewer infrastructure. It needs to be recognized as a standard part of the utilities.

“Young people are not going to buy a house in northern Butler County that does not have internet service. We want them to come back to our small towns and neighborhoods.”