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Market Study underway

A survey of Hermitage residents and others who wanted to have a say in the future of the city reported a strong interest in growing jobs in the city.

Actually, that has not been a weakness, according to statistics compiled by Fourth Economy, the Pittsburgh firm hired to work on the economic development component of the Hermitage Comprehensive Plan.

The number of jobs in the city has been increasing in all sectors but retail, where they have remained steady, Fourth Economy Vice President Jerry Paytas told the Hermitage Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee on June 11.

The figures are good as of 2015 and do not include the closings of Sears, Macy’s and Kmart, said Assistant City Manager Gary Gulla.

At the same time, the city’s population has been declining, by an estimated 4.5 percent between 2000 and 2017.

“It seems like Hermitage is growing more and more as a job center and less as a bedroom community,” Paytas said.

That fact flies in the face of the city’s tax structure, which relies on the earned income tax assessed to residents who work.

“We want people to live here,” said City Manager Gary Hinkson. “Being able to attract the family unit is going to be critical to moving forward.”

In terms of housing, the city has plenty of homes that are considered mid-priced, and 75 percent of homes are affordable for households making $60,000 a year, said Paytas, who noted the statistics for his report came from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

However, there are not enough higher-priced homes to meet the demands for them. People seem to want larger homes with more bedrooms, and high-amenity, multi-family rental units, such as condominiums, said Amy Wiles of Mackin Engineering, Pittsburgh, the consulting firm helping to put together the comprehensive plan.

That might help explain why there are 9,000 people who work in the city but live elsewhere. Mickey McGlasson, Fourth Economy consulting analyst, added that 4,900 city residents work outside the city, and 1,200 residents work within the city.

“It seems like there’s a market here that, if we capture a small portion of it, could help a lot,” Gulla said, referring to those who work in the city and live elsewhere.

Committee member Dan Gracenin asked Fourth Economy to look at job stability. If the population is declining, it would appear difficult to attract development of higher-end housing, he said.

Committee member Matt Liburdi asked for more information about the age and gender of people who work in the city and live elsewhere, and committee member Meg Grober said she would like to know what kind of work they do.

In response to a question from Liburdi, Wiles said Census data shows that 11 percent of Hermitage housing is unoccupied, but it would be helpful to know the values of those homes.

“Maybe, there’s an opportunity to look at incentives to develop in certain areas,” Gulla said.

Officials needs to think about what kind of development they want in the city, whether the city should offer incentives to help bring certain development about and whether they would be willing to give up some kinds of development in order to bring about others, Wiles said.

Committee member John Hudson asked if neighboring communities are being considered as part of the plan. He said Hermitage has benefitted from people moving out of Sharon and Farrell, but the city needs them to be strong, too.

The marketing study Fourth Economy is conducting will look at the region, Wiles said, and Gulla said the city is always thinking regionally in terms of development.

“I think, in the long range, one of our biggest challenges is the strength of the Shenango Valley,” Gulla said.