An official with the state Department of Community and Economic Development met with a group of community leaders in Belle Vernon on Thursday to share ideas for revitalizing the mid-Mon Valley.
Rick Vilello, deputy secretary of community affairs and development for the DCED, met with local borough and township officials, business leaders and other key stakeholders. The group discussed a wide range of topics, including job creation, blight removal, economic development and Council of Government initiatives.
Vilello, who previously served as mayor of Lock Haven, Clinton County, told the group that his community experienced many of the same economic problems that have ravaged the Mon Valley the past 50 years.
“We faced serious challenges when International Paper started laying off employees in our area,” he said. “More than 700 jobs were lost. That might not seem like a lot of people to a larger city, but for a community the size of Lock Haven, those layoffs were devastating.”
Vilello added that Lock Haven gradually recovered from the closing of the International Paper mill by working with DCED to implement a long-term urban revitalization plan.
“It took us 14 years, but now Lock Haven has nearly full occupancy in its downtown district,” said Vilello. “We started building on successes, and people are really seeing a difference. One of the things we learned is that it doesn’t matter who gets credit for turning things around. It’s all about working together and getting things done.”