Correction: Economic Development South’s executive director position is not directly funded by the or Brentwood Borough school districts.
The view from Greg Jones’ office on Brownsville Road, overlooking Brentwood Towne Square and Route 51, is a daily reminder of the successful investments in Brentwood Borough and of the work that still needs to be done.
A former project manager for the Northside Leadership Conference, Jones was selected by a hiring team to serve as the first director of Economic Development South, a nonprofit organization established by business owners, municipal officials and others in the Brentwood, , and Pleasant Hills boroughs.
And despite beginning his new role just two months ago, it is evident by the array of maps and grids on his walls that he’s ready to get down to business.
Jones, who is originally from Kittanning Borough, currently resides in the Brighton Heights community of the City of Pittsburgh with his wife, Beth, and 1-year-old daughter, Eloise, although he anticipates moving in the future to the area that he works in.
Jones’ new position will be funded for the first two years through contributions from Brentwood, Baldwin and Whitehall; the Brentwood Business Owners Association; the Brentwood-Baldwin-Whitehall Chamber of Commerce; and various local politicians.
Jones fills a role that, up until this point, was shared by volunteers. The genesis for his position was two studies completed in 2008 and 2010 – one that examined 17 commercial districts in Brentwood, Baldwin and Whitehall, and another that looked at the Route 51 corridor, respectively.
Since his start in January, Jones has settled into his role by meeting with municipal leaders and getting to know community plans and preferences, he said.
“I’ve got to be talking to everyone and finding out what resources are out there,” he said.
Some of those take root in what the community has already expressed an interest in. And part of that outreach is explaining to the public what EDS does and what its goals are.
Instead of one or two committees coming together and searching for funds, EDS serves as a collective effort to find resources to see through the ideas developed in the 2008/2010 studies.
John Slater, EDS chairman of the board and owner of John F. Slater Funeral Home on Brownsville Road in Brentwood, explained that an executive director was needed to put consensus into action.
“EDS exists … to represent the redevelopment interests of Brentwood, Baldwin and Whitehall as they direct EDS to do and as they don’t have the time and personnel to do themselves,” said Slater, who has largely spearheaded efforts for EDS for more than 10 years.
One of those interests is the Route 51 corridor, where ongoing disinvestment is driving the perception of the neighborhoods surrounding it, Jones said.
“There is tendency to generalize the most visible parts of the community with the whole community,” he said. “Although the corridor may give one impression, you don’t have the usual blight and other issues around it, but instead great, stable neighborhoods, stable income and diverse businesses.”
Jones plans to counteract unfavorable impressions of the corridor with a rebranding strategy, as well as by creating an overlay district between the municipalities along that corridor to consolidate and simplify existing zoning ordinances. He hopes that this will address redevelopment concepts along the corridor so that municipalities have a tool to set goals and achieve them.
“I think that most businesses that choose not to invest here think the same thing: you don’t know which direction things are going to go,” he said. “So, if you’re able to set that standard, and if everything from this moment forward can address those standards ... all of a sudden you have businesses saying, ‘I like where this is headed.’”
Jones also hopes to work on biking and pedestrian connectivity, new signage along the corridor and a few greening projects that will more effectively move people along the corridor and through the various business districts.
“I believe that any investment in the corridor will positively effect the communities it serves,” Jones said. “Some of it is just connecting existing businesses with the resources that are already out there.”
Although the current funding environment is volatile for projects like the ones that EDS is envisioning, Jones is thinking positively and proactively.
“These are still words on a page, but moving this from ideas to … plans and projects until the only issue is needing some gap funding is a really appealing thing,” he said. “Getting ducks in a row now is important so that we are more competitive down the line. We’ll be really well-positioned to start effecting some of these changes.”
That positivity is one of the reasons why Jones was chosen for this seemingly giant role.
“We’re very happy with Greg,” Slater said. “Greg is very approachable and knowledgeable and very excited to get started on some of these projects.
“Hopefully, EDS will change the mix of business in the area and probably the surrounding areas so other businesses will be enticed to move in and younger and younger people will be enticed to take up residence there.”
For now, Jones still has that view of shops, offices and a busy road every morning to remind him of what can be done in the meantime: finding opportunities where the communities can work together to accomplish goals.
“(You can) build a sense that something is happening, and then, you can tie all of those little things into it,” Jones said. “I’m looking forward to working with all of these communities and seeing through all of these projects and initiatives that the communities have laid out.”