White Township, Pennsylvania
Going for the gold
Business View Magazine interviews Chris Anderson, Township Manager of White Township, Pennsylvania, for our focus on Economic Growth in U.S. Communities
Building community seems to be everyone’s goal these days. It’s the sign of a healthy group, be it in a business, church, or school. Building true community takes time. It takes effort. It’s all about people connecting. Connected people seem to be a bit happier. Happy people equals happy life, right? Happy people stay. Happy people participate. Happy people spend.
Located in the west central part of Pennsylvania in the middle of Indiana County, White Township is one of those happy places. Founded in 1843, White Township has a population of 16,000 and covers 43 square miles. “We’ve always looked at ourselves as a full-service community,” says Chris Anderson, White Township Manager, “part urban, part suburban, and part rural.” To elaborate, the township is half suburban with subdivisions and the other half is totally rural, with big farms and big machinery. Somehow, though, White Township has managed to bring those two halves together, creating a strong community through thoughtful and extensive planning and foresight.
Planning is a strength of the folks that oversee White Township. Anderson explains, “First and foremost, we do utilize our boards, authority and commission. We have well experienced five member planning commission and they review all land development. The creation of a comprehensive plan steering committee focuses the needs of the township with long range planning for the future. Our five member Board of Supervisors take an active role to govern assuring sound fiscal management and secure health, safety and welfare of the citizens.”
At the heart of the township – their pride and joy – is their community recreation center. It all started back in 1995, when White Township purchased a 50-acre parcel of land with dreams of building a recreation center. State grant funds, along with active local fundraising eventually got the center built. Today, the White Township Recreation Complex is the 90-acre hub of recreation for the Township and surrounding area. Their robust facilities match their robust programming. The Complex is home to the S & T Bank Arena, featuring a full-size ice rink and a turf field, side by side. In addition, there are numerous outdoor assets: baseball fields, tennis courts, volleyball courts, pickleball courts, soccer fields, basketball courts, disc golf, walking paths, and pavilion/picnic/playground areas.
White Township also offers Public Skating along with Learn to Skate and Learn to Play Hockey programs. “We usually start ice the first week of August and it runs through maybe the end of April,” explains Anderson. “It truly is a great asset to the community. We’ve got busy tournaments and Division 1 hockey.” Schools utilize it too, from varsity teams on down to youth programs. The White Woods Nature Center, also run by the rec department, has 245 forested acres and features numerous trails including a 2.5 mile loop that’s perfect for a quiet escape in the woods to either go for a hike or a bike ride.
There’s a lot more to this desirable township, though, then that fabulous rec center and their outstanding programming. Indiana a college town, where education is valued and celebrated. “You can start out in White Township at preschool,” says Anderson, “and go through elementary school, middle school, high school, and then attend a vocational school, university, or community college.” Indiana County is home to Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP), with over 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students enrolled.
There is also Westmoreland Community College, which Anderson says, “has a really good emphasis on their nursing program right now. They just constructed a brand new facility within White Township. We’ve always worked well with the school district and the university. The university has provided us interns who have helped us on surveys, reports and studies. They’re a great asset to have in the community. It’s kind of a feeder program for many of businesses around here.”
On the same property as the new Westmoreland County Community College is the Indiana County Vocational Technical School, offering education in a variety of trade skills. Schools throughout the county participate in sending students to learn automotive technology, construction and building trades, commercial driving, manufacturing and healthcare careers, digital arts, information technologies, and many adult career evening classes.
Speaking of business, Anderson says that White Township is fortunate in that they seem to attract new businesses. He notes, “We do receive most of the new businesses. Most of the new developments come to White Township. We have property available in our large, pad-ready industrial parks, etc.” There is no zoning ordinance in effect in the township. Anderson explains, “We’ve acknowledged that, at a planning commission level, there’s minimal impacts or minimal conflicts. It’s worked well for White Township in a sense that we are on one end very urban. And then on the other end, we’re very rural. Most of the businesses want to stay close to that urban center. So, essentially, the community without zoning has sort of zoned itself. The commercial likes to be close to the commercial. Close to the people. Close to the university.”
One of the most attractive features of White Township is no real estate tax. The supervisors, over history, have chosen to operate under an earned income tax, which is a half percent, and a small real estate transfer tax. They’ve operated on a balanced budget for years, getting creative when they can, like playing landlord to a Verizon cell tower on one of their recreation properties. That lease brings in a monthly rental fee, just shy of $1,000.
“One of our main focuses is the extensive and modern infrastructure we have in place,” Anderson maintains. We have 100 miles of township roadway, we have 85 miles of township sanitary sewer line, and we have about 2,500 sanitary sewer manholes that go with that sanitary sewer line. We also have 100 miles of storm water piping, which is huge, due to our proactive approach and flood mitigation and flood prevention.”
Infrastructure keeps the foundation strong. But things like walkability and bikeability are attractive features that keep the community aspect strong. “More recently, we’ve started a complete streets policy,” Anderson explains. “This basically says when we do street or road improvements, we’re going to make sure that we can do as much as we can for traffic calming and accommodating all modes of transportation, including bicycles and pedestrians, and making them ADA accessible if need be. We’ve worked with the county and IUP to develop a multimodal plan, which is actually a spinoff of the IUP community district plan. So we’ve been very active in transportation from a planning standpoint.”
Currently, White Township is undergoing a comprehensive plan update. Anderson says that the plan begins with a list of the items from the 2008 comprehensive plan. “This was done,” he says, “not to pat ourselves on the back, but to highlight it at the beginning of the document. It shows the community that we have been active. That we take this plan seriously. we continue to build and to grow our infrastructure and grow our communities. Once we highlighted the projects that were completed, a new list was generated to further enhance those items important to the Township. We’ve always been a forward thinking community, looking toward progress. We want to provide favorable development conditions for land developers to come here. We want to preserve and expand our recreational footprint.”
White Township is a Silver Certified Sustainable Community in Pennsylvania which is a performance recognition program that helps communities achieve sustainability goals, by saving money, conserving resources, and encouraging innovation. “Over the next several years,” Anderson shares, “we want to strive for that gold status.”
With their penchant for planning, knack for building community, and heart for servicing their people, White Township will be gold in no time.
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AT A GLANCE
White Township, Pennsylvania
What: A friendly, full-service community; population 16,000
Where: Indiana County, west central PA