The Indiana County commissioners Wednesday gave their blessing to a new organization that will look for ways the county can attract economic development, provide good jobs and keep communities healthy in a sustainable economy.
The concept of the Indiana County Area Task Force for Sustainable Economic Development came from an all-day Sustainable Economy Summit held in April at the Rustic Lodge in White Township. Seminar topics focused on various types of renewable energy and related infrastructure, regional initiatives by clean energy companies, the economic potential of sustainable agriculture, eco-tourism, energy efficiency and the emerging field of green chemistry with its potential to transform manufacturing.
Organizers of the summit said more than 3 million clean energy jobs are available in the U.S. with more expected to be created. And in Pennsylvania, renewable energy jobs are growing faster than jobs in fossil fuel. Additional jobs are projected in sustainable agriculture and other clean economy sectors.
The proposal for the task force was brought to the commissioners by representatives of six organizations: The League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, the LOWV of Indiana County, the Indiana County Office of Planning and Development, the Indiana University of Pennsylvania Sustainable Studies Program, the Evergreen Conservancy and the Indiana County Center for Community Growth.
Commissioner Sherene Hess said the aim of the task force will be to help the county harness the tools that can contribute to a sustainable economy this year and beyond.
“A clean energy revolution is taking place across America, underscored by the steady expansion of the U.S. renewable energy sector,” Hess said. “The clean energy industry generates hundreds of billions in economic activity, and is expected to continue to grow. … There is tremendous economic opportunity for the counties that invent, manufacture and export clean energy technologies. Renewable energy and sustainable agriculture can play an important role in rural economic development and I am pleased and grateful that forward-looking citizens groups are leading the way.”
Tina Perdue, of the Indiana County Center for Community Growth, told the commissioners the task force will identify and promote sustainable economic initiatives that diversify the county’s economic base by attracting businesses and jobs in the renewable energy sector; that reduce costs for government, agriculture, business and private individuals; and that protect and restore the county’s natural resources.
Perdue said that to achieve those goals, the organizers are recommending that the task force develop an action plan with short- and long-term goals in three categories — economic development, education and job training.
The goals may include investigating ways to bring jobs in the renewable energy field into the county; identifying the needs of potential employers in the renewable energy field in order to expand or relocate in the county; identifying and supporting green energy entrepreneurs; planning educational programs to build awareness of sustainable energy opportunities for employment; identifying sustainable practices that will work in the county to contain costs and improve the management of natural resources; educating stakeholders in agriculture, business and government about sustainable practices that will cut costs; identifying current job training at local facilities that promote green technology jobs; and proposing partnerships with local educational institutions to train or retrain people for jobs in the renewable energy sector.
Perdue said organizers suggest that the task force include representatives from government, economic development, business, agriculture, educational institutions, community groups and interested citizens.
Perdue and Hess said it hasn’t been determined yet how frequently the task force members should meet. But there will be opportunities, they said, for more people to get involved with the task force efforts.
In other agenda items at Wednesday’s meeting the commissioners:
• Accepted a bid of $459,629 from Richardson Tree and Landscaping, of New Wilmington, to remove trees on private property adjacent to the Indiana County/Jimmy Stewart Airport that are determined to be potential obstructions to aircraft. About 95 percent of the cost will be covered by state and federal grants.
• Approved a cooperative agreement between the sheriff’s department and Children and Youth Services to have two deputies on duty during business hours at the new CYS office as they are now at the county’s Domestic Relations Department office.
The commissioners plan to move the CYS office from its current site in the county-owned building at 350 N. Fourth St., Indiana, to a new location that has more space and will provide a safer and more secure office for the CYS staff and caseworkers.
• Approved a memorandum of understanding with Fayette, Lancaster, Schuylkill and Westmoreland counties that will allow those counties to temporarily house inmates at the Indiana County Jail at a cost of $55 per inmate per day.
• Proclaimed this week as National Tourism Week in Indiana County, and May as Mental Health Awareness Month, Lyme Disease Awareness Month and National Bike Month in the county.