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Index Ranks PA Counties' Economic Competitiveness

A Pittsburgh-based consulting firm released on April 15 an index of Pennsylvania county competitiveness rankings that attempts to determine which counties are poised for future economic growth.

Fourth Economy Consulting ranked each of the state’s 67 counties in five categories: investment, talent, place, and diversity. According to Fourth economy President and CEO Richard Overmoyer, counties received a checkmark, plus, or minus in each category. Checkmarks signify high performance, pluses are average, and minuses show that the county needs to improve in that area.

Allegheny County ranked well in every county but one.

“The one area’s around sustainability…largely due to the air quality issues that we continue to have to deal with here in the community,” Overmoyer said. “That’s really what’s driving that ranking down.”

Cambria County performed poorly in every category except “place,” while Somerset County struggled with “talent” and “diversity.”

Overmoyer said the 2015 Pennsylvania County Competitive Analysis differs from other competitiveness reports in that it takes into account more than traditional economic factors such as wage and population growth.

“What we wanted to do is really try to look at the other factors that were predictive of what would support quality communities and resulting economic competitiveness,” Overmoyer said. “The work that we do actually gets into many more indicators and many more data points in terms of the kinds of things that one might see in a community that has the ability to grow.”

Fourth Economy observed more than 50 data points for every county in the United States, and uses the information for multiple reports and indexes. The non-traditional measures include a county’s average work commute time, air quality, water quality, and farms per capita.

Racial and ethnic diversity played a role in evaluating counties, but were not the only type of diversity analyzed.

“Diversity, as we look at it, also includes sort of a business diversity,” Overmoyer said. “That a community is not wholly dependent on one type of industry. That they do have at least a number of industries that have health and strength and have the ability to grow and attract talent.”

According to Overmoyer, counties that want to improve their economic competitiveness need to study their weak areas and develop comprehensive policy initiatives to address those weaknesses.

“Ultimately what we’ve seen both in our work and also if you look nationally at all the communities that are growing, and are growing at quite a great clip, is that—they have a plan in place to take advantage of the assets and address some of the deficiencies,” Overmoyer said.