Cumberland Times-News

June 8, 2011

‘Community conversations’ in hand, Power of 32 leaders identify six major themes

Angie Brant
Cumberland Times-News

— CUMBERLAND  —  The Power of 32 initiative is continuing to move forward to “create agendas that will result in actionable plans designed to positively impact” the lives of the 4.2 million residents in the target area of West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

The first phase of the process, completed last year, involved collecting public input in what were called “community conversations.” More than 3,000 residents shared their thoughts on what steps need to be taken to achieve regional success by 2025.

Power of 32 representatives, including Executive Director Selena Schmidt, expected the conversations to reveal differences from community to community but were surprised by how many shared themes were expressed.

Upon reviewing the data collected, organizers identified six major themes: economy, education, environment, governance, quality of life and transportation/infrastructure. Framing committees for each of these groups were created.

This regional approach is a familiar concept for Colleen Peterson, who has been named co-chair of the Transportation/Infrastructure Framing Committee. Peterson has implemented a similar effort in her work as executive director of The Greater Cumberland Committee.

Peterson has worked for years to rally support for the completion of a North/South Appalachian Highway.

“We are looking at four areas that we intend to design effective strategies to implement ideas that were presented. We believe these areas will generate the energy and interest that will move these great ideas into actionable steps,” Peterson explained.

The committee will focus on moving people and product; broadband accessibility; innovation in alternative fuels; and identifying and capitalizing on available assets.

Peterson said the group, which meets monthly, will consider all modes of transportation.

“We are looking at everything — highway, air, rail, locks and dams,” she explained. “I really believe that rail transportation has significant potential that could change the way we move people and product. We will be looking at the best way to move products fast while conserving energy.”

Access to broadband is a common concern throughout the region. While urban areas often take broadband accessibility for granted, those in rural areas continue to struggle to have the same access. Broadband has become an integral tool for businesses of all sectors.

The exploration of alternative fuels will be led by Rick Stafford, Framing Committee co-chair. Stafford is a distinguished service professor of public policy at the H. John Heinz III College, School of Public Policy and Management, of Carnegie Mellon University.

“The development of Marcellus shale is a common thread throughout the region and we hope to become a pilot program for the exploration of this natural gas source,” Peterson said.

“In the final area, we will consider the assets avaliable to this region and devise methods to capitalize our assets while cooperatively working with government entities on all levels. We believe terrific ideas need support from the federal level to be successful,” she said.

 After the framing committee works to identify action plans, the executive committee will be charged with vetting those ideas and developing an agenda. The executive committee will identify one to three policy initiatives in each of the six major themes.

“Those ideas will be presented in much the same way as the community conversations. You could say we are coming full circle, back to the people,” she said. “In the fall there will be another series of public meetings to allow the public to share their thoughts on the proposals.

“We are working to determine how the region needs to move forward to be competitive and thrive in the global community,” she explained. “I feel like we are on top of a mountain, there are so many possibilities.

“I believe we are weaving the fabric of our future and ensuring a very strong quality of life.”

For more information on the Power of 32 initiative, visit www.powerof32.org.

Contact Angie Brant at abrant@times-news.com.