Thirteen years ago, two consultants from West Virginia and Pittsburgh were asked to come up with a regional development plan. After a few months of investigation, they in turn asked to be fired, saying the project would never work.
Hey, no one said it would be easy.
Flash ahead to November 2011--exactly 156 community conversations in 32 counties later. That's when the Power of 32
, the new regional visioning project charged with creating a shared vision for the four-state area, moved from vision to action by announcing the adoption of 14 initiatives in the areas of economy, education, environment, community and people, government, transportation and infrastructure.
Many were already in place, with the potential to be made much stronger through collaboration that crossed county and state lines. Some were new, like the real-time traveler information system that arose with the help of P32's transportation and infrastructure team.
The latter is a good example of the intention of P32 to get things done collaboratively on a broad regional level, to not only marshall more strength in numbers but also secure more federal funding.
“I think it’s fair to say this only happened because of Power of 32. It was a specific issue recommended. Nobody was taking the steps to do it; this was the push,” states Allen Biehler of the Heinz School of Policy and Public Management and executive director of the University Transportation Center.
The traveler information system, similar to what's in place in New York, San Francisco and D.C., is being led by Carnegie Mellon University’s Traffic21 with a goal to connect the 511 information systems from the four states included in the Power of 32.
“We at CMU worked along with the Power of 32 folks and Intelligent Transportation Systems of America in Washington, D.C., as well as the state departments of transportation, from Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and Maryland for a day and half workshop,” Biehler says.
“We outlined the issues and the next step is to lay out an implementation plan. The states were willing to figure out how we can work together. Half the problem is getting agencies to spend energy and think through how they can cooperate," he adds.
The intent is that each of the 14 adopted projects on the regional agenda such as this one be led by an entity or group committed to seeing it through, says Pat Getty, co-chair of Power of 32 and president of the Benedum Foundation in Pittsburgh.
That meant getting the right partners involved in each project as opposed to creating a new nonprofit for P32 to oversee implementation of projects in different fields, he notes.
“If we could do one
thing successfully as a region, that's the best demonstration of the benefit of something like this," he says of P32. "Two years ago I never would’ve believed there would be 14 projects underway."
On the trail
The 14 initiatives combined cover all 32 counties. Ideally, each project is expected to utilize the resources of the larger geographical area—such as other groups and people--to tackle common challenges. Sounds like a good idea but in reality, how likely is it to work?
“The recent economic crises have changed things and there is a greater willingness to share ideas and share resources,” says Getty.
Case in point: the regions' trails.
“We needed an asset map of the trail region and the Benedum Foundation funded that," says Getty. The technical wiz who developed the asset map, and the staffs of Pennsylvania Environment Council (PEC) and the Progress Fund, decided it made more sense to expand it even further, to 46 counties, he explains.
"We have a powerful resource in the Power of 32," says Davitt Woodwell of the PEC. Not only does P32 capture what's going on with trail planning to see both the gaps and the opportunities in the region but it offers another advantage, he adds. "From a trail development point of view, we can see if we can replicate the experience from the Allegheny Passage to leverage economic development as well."
In a display of convincing collaboration, a March 8 summit, Forks of the Ohio, will bring together trail stakeholders from neighboring states to Cranberry, PA in an interactive session to discuss topics such as mega greenways and connecting communities. One goal is to build on recent accomplishments of the Progress Fund in trail-based economic development in rural communities. See more here.
A key component of the education programs of P32 is addressing the workforce issue, to prepare students for anticipated employment needs in the future.
The Sprout Fund is tasked with leading the collaborative effort called “Create a Regional STEAM Network” (that's science, technology, engineering, art and math).
One result of this project's collaboration: the CREATE Lab at Carnegie Mellon University has established a satellite at Marshall University in West Virginia so rural communities get access to their advanced technology and programs specifically developed with their needs in mind.
Last spring, West Liberty University School of Education was named a satellite partner and this summer, the West Virginia University School of Education and Carlow University are expected to become partners as well.
“Power of 32 recognized our work through Spark, which serves kids birth to age 10, and Hive, which serves tweens and teens, and will launch in April 2013,” explains Ryan Coon, Sprout program officer.
“In a lot of ways, Power of 32 creates a more open network among businesses and non-profits, helping to establish an understanding in the region of a place we need to work together and cooperate for common goals,” says Coon. “If creating a group of well-aligned regional actors can be accomplished, that could be a powerful thing.”
The Allegheny Conference leads the two economic programs: Forming a regional venture fund, or more accurately an early stage fund-of-funds, says Getty, as well as a site fund for business growth in the region. These two initiatives are different than the 12 others since they can't get off the ground without a lot of money being raised, to the tune of $60 and $30 million dollars, says Getty. Most of the others are already funded to varying degrees by various sources, and are moving ahead. Two are not yet started, including the regional freight plan and the regional energy strategy.
Despite the steep costs, there's a promising development on the site fund. “I thought the hardest to get off the ground would be the site fund. That’s usually where local government slugs it out,” states Getty. But local government has gotten on board this project because it promises a fair and open way to identify the best sites and attract employers that will be big enough to hire regionally, he adds.
In another P32 area, conservation and sustainable use of the region’s water is an initiative of the environmental issue team. Deborah Lange, executive director of the Steinbrenner Institute at Carnegie Mellon University and project manager for the Ohio Rivers Headwaters Resource Committee says that the focus on this initiative the first year is on data collection.
“We want to understand who’s doing what rather than do new studies, and understand the regulatory policies in Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania that include the 20,000 square miles of headwaters. We also want to stay close to ORSANCO (Ohio River Valley Sanitation Commission), " she says.
"There’s a renewed interest in water quantity and how it relates to climate change or Marcellus Shale and how much water that uses, or exporting water to other parts of the country that aren’t quite as water rich."
She feels Power of 32 solidified the energy and concern over water quantity issues generated by groups like Sustainable Pittsburgh and the Water Economy Network.
Another initiative related to waterways and the environment examines converting river tugboats from diesel to natural gas. “People seem convinced there is a fair amount of air pollution from diesel tugs,” says Getty. “They are in the valley where pollution congregates.”
Natural gas needs more storage space than diesel, so the tugs need to be redesigned. The feasibility of this project requires more investigation and consequently, more funding. And that's where the capture team comes in.
Coordinated by The Fourth Economy, an economic consulting firm, the capture team will make it more possible to secure federal grants that have a short time window and are seeking teams with effective working relationships.
“The capture team will facilitate a quick and effective conversation, acquire the right grant writer, put the application together, and prove that by a coordinated approach the region can enhance its success rate on competitive grants," Getty explains.
In December 2012, the team received funding of $150,000 from the Benedum Foundation "to really get it off the ground," says Rich Overmoyer of Fourth Economy, the lead organization. One of their first steps was pulling together a list of 28 organizations, representing economic and community development from all four states.
"There are two key areas," Overmoyer says. "The federal agencies are looking for regional cooperation so we are supporting organizations in West Virginia, Maryland and Ohio to find easy ways to partner with people from Greater Pittsburgh to identify needs and leverage the assets that we have.
Secondly, he says, "To identify areas where we have regional strength and pursue funding to support bigger impacts, we are focused on energy and water related activities in the region."
Clearly, there is much to do on many fronts, from capturing more funding to starting the two new initiatives. “It’s important that these regional projects are successful," Getty says, "so people can see that collaboration is the best way to make progress on the right kind of project."
Thus far, though, Getty is pleased with how far P32 has come. If he had it to do over, they might have paid more attention to branding of the regional plan from the start, he admits. As part of the communication effort now, a monthly newsletter, available on the website, debuted in December to track progress and keep people informed. That will answer the question of: whatever happened to the Power of 32?
To see the history of Power of 32 and all the organizations and people supporting the plan, click here.
Photographs copyright Brian Cohen