By Michelle Kichline, Chair, Chester County Commissioners
Chester County is widely known as a beautiful and happy corner of Pennsylvania. As a matter of fact, we are considered the fourth happiest county in America. Ours is one of the best counties in which to live, work, and raise a family, and it falls upon our local government to maintain the high quality of life that our residents are accustomed to.
As Chair of the County Commissioners, I look forward to this challenge, continuing along the path of my predecessors, especially former Chair, Commissioner Terence Farrell, who has greatly contributed to the accomplishments of our county. Much of Chester County’s success comes from a long and uninterrupted history of planning. Planning remains the hallmark of our success.
Chester County is in excellent fiscal shape because of our financial planning. Our Triple-A bond rating attests to this fact. Across the nation, we see signs of economic development, and at home, we will continue to review our investments and loans to make sure we take advantage of the improving financial conditions.
Our success in managing growth – especially when you consider that we are one of the fastest growing counties in Pennsylvania – can be attributed to our Comprehensive Plan, which is readily available online. Our Planning Commission is spearheading the development of Landscapes3, the successor to our two initial “Landscapes” that have guided Chester County in balancing economic growth and preservation for two decades. We remain committed to open space preservation efforts along with aiding our county’s agriculture sector, while encouraging residential and business development in local urban communities.
Chester County’s focus on continued economic growth can be found in the public-private partnership strategy known as VISTA 2025. Its goal is to support and preserve our economic diversity while keeping those elements that make Chester County so attractive to residents and businesses. It is a deep and wide strategy that – through consistent planning – will encourage small and large businesses to choose Chester County as their home and, at the same time, educate and train our workforce to support the local business community. This strategy also encourages the people who work here to make Chester County their home, and we already see this plan in action, as evidenced by a recent newspaper article naming Phoenixville as a hub for Millennials and Baby Boomers.
Planning and promotion by the Chester County Conference and Visitors Bureau is also paying dividends. Tourism alone brings in more than $700 million and generates over 7,000 jobs in Chester County! In 2016, Longwood Gardens was the most visited garden in the United States, further contributing to our economic success. This premier tourist attraction increased its attendance in 10 years from 750,000 to 1.35 million visitors, and has plans to welcome even more tourists this year.
In 2017, Chester County will continue to support our boroughs and the city of Coatesville. We were disappointed that the State of Pennsylvania withdrew Coatesville’s application for a Keystone Opportunity Zone (KOZ) designation (along with all other state-wide KOZ applications), which would have helped with business attraction to the city. But we will continue to plan for other financial avenues to assist Coatesville in its recovery, adding to the $11 million-plus that has been spent on housing, training and education, infrastructure improvements and economic development in the past few decades.
The county will monitor budget negotiations in Harrisburg, especially Human Services programs, because taking care of those in need is a top priority for us. Chester County must remain prepared to provide necessary services if Harrisburg is unable to approve a budget and provide this type of funding. (And because of our astute financial planning, we have been able to step-in over the past few years, to bridge the funding gap for our vulnerable citizens when Harrisburg was in budget turmoil.)
The incoming administration in Washington has indicated infrastructure spending will increase. We will ensure that we have ‘shovel ready’ projects in place for funding, such as the Route 30 Bypass ramp. Route 202 has also been greatly enhanced in recent years, but other roadways also need improvements. Planning for transit development is a vital key to preserving our boroughs and cities, especially Coatesville, Downingtown, and Exton.
When it comes to other key priorities, including the health and safety of Chester County citizens, the thread of planning is evident in so many initiatives. From the development of the Public Safety Training Campus and the investment in our emergency voice radio system to preparing for public health emergencies and tackling the opioid and heroin crisis – we make plans, enact plans and review plans for the health and safety of everyone who lives and works here.
This year will be extremely busy for all three Chester County Commissioners. Vice Chair Kathi Cozzone will continue her efforts in workforce development and the reduction of the number of people with mental illness in jails. Commissioner Farrell will continue with international trade initiatives with China and will spearhead our ‘Healthiest County’ program. Together, the three of us will continue to work hard – and make plans – to keep Chester County a wonderful place to live, work, and play. Our plans include input and support from Chester County’s residents and businesses to ensure our continued success and vitality, and we look forward to hearing from you.