At a North Side town hall meeting April 15, elected officials representing the area came together to update their constituents on their work and address the concerns of the community.
“We’ve had the opportunity to meet with almost every organization in the North Side and through that we’ve been able to prioritize,” said District 6 Councilman Daniel Lavelle. “Some have housing concerns or concerns with violence in the community.”
The top priority and concern for residents was a lack of jobs, particularly family sustaining jobs. While government representatives illustrated how jobs were being brought into the region, they emphasized the importance of education and training in acquiring those jobs.
“We talk about jobs and earnings, but everything I know comes back to people being trained and prepared for those opportunities,” said District 19 Rep. Jake Wheatley.
Many of the representatives highlighted Marcellus Shale, a rapidly growing energy industry in Western Pennsylvania. Economic forecasters indicate the new industry will bring with it a massive influx of jobs, but Wheatley and others worry their constituents won’t be ready in time.
“Our office has worked to support sustaining jobs and letting people know when opportunities exist,” Wheatley said. “I think one of the things we need to work on is preparing for what’s coming down the pike.”
Beyond job creation in the energy field, Marcellus Shale will also produce a ripple effect of hotels and restaurants. Similar opportunities will soon be available surrounding the new Console Energy Center in the Hill District.
“I think there are going to be some great opportunities with Marcellus Shale,” said Ed Gainey of the mayor’s office. “There’s no question that this Marcellus Shale is going to be a top industry in southwestern Pennsylvania, but also think about the other industries that are going to be created off of it.”
Education in the Pittsburgh Public School District was also a highly contested topic. Many of the representatives as well as members of the audience worried the school system was failing to produce graduates who would be able to take advantage of job opportunities.
“We are a school district in crisis. We’re losing students; the achievement gap is growing. Somewhere, somehow, you have to find the time,” School Board member Mark Brentley said. “If you don’t get active more and more students will drop out and the next day we’ll read about them in the paper.”
Brentley (District 8) said the district is also suffering financially and urged the audience to get involved. He also said the district could play a role in creating job opportunities for minorities if minority owned and operated businesses were on the receiving end of district contracts.
“The district continues to spend money without your approval,” Brentley said. “The reality is very soon, we’re going to be scraping by financially.”