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Butler County’s population rises against, bucking trends across state’s Western reaches

Traffic makes its way up Route 228 in Cranberry Township. Justin Guido/Special to the Eagle
Small town charm meets development
County leaders speak on sustainability amid population growth

Butler County’s population is on the rise, bucking trends across the region and state, as well as creating both potential and challenges for those tasked with leading the region through the growth spurt.

In 2023, Butler County was one of only two counties in Western Pennsylvania and 23 counties statewide to see its population increase, according to U.S. Census data. Last year, the county’s population increased by 2.39%.

Last month, the Pennsylvania State Data Center released its estimates of the total population as of July 1, 2023 at the county level.

Using administrative records to estimate births, deaths and migration, the census was able to track population change since the most recent decennial census to produce a series of estimates of population, demographic changes and housing units.

Overall, Pennsylvania experienced a population decline of a little more than 41,000 people between 2020 and 2023.

Butler is the only county in Western Pennsylvania that added at least 2,000 people since 2020, with an estimated 4,639 increase in population. In the same period, neighboring Allegheny County lost 25,711.

The only other county in the region to see any increase was Washington, which added 863 people since 2020.

‘A very attractive place’

“Butler County is a great place to live and grow,” Cranberry Township manager Dan Santoro said.

He wasn’t surprised the county is seeing such an influx of new residents, especially the southern part of the county.

“There are great job opportunities here, there are high quality schools and it’s really an affordable place to live, which makes this a very attractive place for people to want to raise a family,” Santoro said.

Cranberry Township has been one of the fastest growing municipalities over the past 20 years. Since 2003, the township has experienced an average 1.7% population growth year over year, which equates to about 473 new residents per year.

As the number of people in Butler County climbs, Santoro and other elected officials said the county has prepared for the growth, investing time and resources for the population increase.

From attracting new businesses to trying to maintain and update infrastructure and dealing with increased traffic, county officials, including Butler County Commissioners Kim Geyer and Leslie Osche, said they are prepared for the growth while still maintaining the county’s small-town charm.

“I believe people are searching for a sense of belonging to a community and being connected to others,” Geyer said. “They can see and experience that here in Butler County.”

Santoro and Osche said they believe the reason for growth has to do with the easy access to Pittsburgh, lower taxes, quality schools and job opportunities. Geyer offered another factor as to why nearly 4,700 people have moved to the county in the past three years.

“It is no coincidence that we are seeing an exodus occurring from states and counties that do not respect law enforcement,” Geyer said. “People want to feel safe and protected with their families if they have to make a call for help or find themselves in an emergency.”

Funding the future

One of the ways Butler County has been preparing for population growth is by making sure the county is attractive to new businesses and developers.

“Butler County’s growth impacts residents through lower taxes by the growing commercial and residential tax bases,” Geyer said. “Of course, we have more population which equates to more children in schools, families in housing, increased business growth to support local economies and traffic growth on roads.”

Geyer, who also sits on the county’s conservation district board, said “accessibility and cooperation” has played a key role in bringing new business into Butler County. The county commissioner credited organizations such as the Community Development Corporation and the Butler County Chamber of Commerce with helping streamline processes for potential incoming economic ventures.

“When there is confusion and disorganization to processes and procedures, there is more of an unwillingness to do business and make investments” she said. “Fortunately in Butler County, we do not have that.”

There also has been a focus on manufacturing jobs, which Osche said is the backbone of Butler.

“This county has always been a place where we make things, with more manufacturers than any other county in the commonwealth,” Osche said. “Our industry was built on a strong European immigrant population with a rich work ethic … We are on the verge of seeing the county’s central core come back to life in the city of Butler and Butler Township, particularly in the Lyndora area.”

Osche also said the county’s growth has led Butler to focus on investing “in all people,” which includes projects that center around those in recovery and veterans in the area.

Sustainability

If the past is prologue, Butler County’s population will continue to increase. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Butler County’s population estimates have grown every year since 2010, rising from 183,851 in 2010 to 193,774 in 2020.

Osche said she believes Cranberry Township can serve as a model for how the rest of the county can manage growth.

“Growth is absolutely sustainable if you have dedicated and educated leadership applying excellence in municipal land use and development planning,” she said.

Cranberry Township, according to Santoro, has invested heavily in the growth, which includes installing a state-of-the-art traffic control center 23 years ago and obtaining grants to improve area infrastructure.

“We have always had a long-term vision of planning for infrastructure and a 25 year transportation plan that gets updated every five years.” Santoro said.

Geyer said over the past nearly nine years, with the help of state and federal grants, “there has never been more investment made into Butler County” to support infrastructure initiatives and local boroughs and municipalities.

One of the initiatives Geyer referenced is the construction of the Route 228 corridor, which started in 2017. She said it has been a game changer for the county because it supports the growth and development of the county’s southern tier and transports $30 billion in GDP annually for more than 12,500 businesses.

“This regional corridor goes from the port of Freeport to the Beaver County port of the Shell Cracker Plant and is a freight route,” she said. “It took a team of local, county, state and federal people all working together to garner the back-to-back build grants totaling over $45 million on an over $200 million dollar project.”

Geyer said the county has made water and sewer a priority.

“Water and sewer is the rule of thumb for economic development,” Geyer said. “If you want growth and development to follow, you have to have both water and sewer. One without the other does not attract development.”

Geyer said townships had to rely on housing developers in the past to upgrade water and sewer and infrastructure, which took anywhere from a “few years to a decade.” Now with the increased growth, Geyer said the model has changed.

“While still occurring, private and public partnerships (are) working collaboratively together, such as the water line that ran five miles from Middlesex Township up to the Pittsburgh-Butler Regional Airport along the Route 8 commercial corridor which now provides quality public water to residents and businesses in Middlesex and Penn Townships while providing public water for safety purposes to the airport after 91 years,” she said. The county is now seeing townships working with developers on water and sewer projects.

Route 228 corridor in Cranberry. Butler Eagle file photo
What’s coming next

Even with the increase in population there are still several areas the county plans to focus on to make sure the growth is sustainable for the entire county including the middle and northern tiers of Butler.

Geyer said the county is still looking to improve water, sewer, infrastructure and broadband services to the more rural areas of the county.

“Those in rural areas of the county who are aging are discovering that they cannot sell their homes or downsize due to the lack of infrastructure investment such as water, sewer and broadband investments,” Geyer said. “If we want our young people to stay in Butler County and live and work here, these investments are necessary for this generation of young people and young families.”

Osche said the county is also focusing on upgrading many of the 1,000 bridges around the county as well as helping municipality work together to help with growth management.

“Municipal education and multi-municipal cooperation will be critically important to growth management,” Geyer said. “The Southwest Pennsylvania Stormwater Management group is a shining example of municipal cooperation that is yielding great results. They’ve begun to look at other areas of collaboration.”

Osche said the county can still maintain the charm of a small community while still preserving a positive business environments that encourages growth in the area.

“We can strike the balance of rural and suburbanized areas throughout the county, respecting the differences, and supporting both,” she said.

Eagle staff writer William Pitts contributed to this report.

Vehicles are stopped at the intersection of Route 19 and Route 228 in Cranberry Township. Justin Guido/Special to the Eagle
Vehicles are stopped at the intersection of Route 19 and Route 228 in Cranberry Township. Justin Guido/Special to the Eagle
Vehicles are stopped at the intersection of Route 19 and Route 228 in Cranberry Township. Justin Guido/Special to the Eagle
Traffic makes its way up Route 228 in Cranberry Township. Justin Guido/Special to the Eagle

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