Jerry Andree, Township Manager

Jerry Andree, Township Manager

No level of government has more impact on daily life than local government. That’s why my colleagues and I at Cranberry Township are passionate about pushing the limits of excellence to provide the best possible services to our residents and customers. However, being well-served is not a passive achievement; it is a collective undertaking. Through this blog, we offer our personal reflections on that assignment. And we hope it will help engage you in joining us on that same collaborative mission.

Apr 23

Building a better life in Cranberry

Posted on April 23, 2018 at 12:46 PM by Jerry Andree

Whenever you drive along Rt. 19, you can’t help but see “now hiring” signs on stores and restaurants up and down the road.  What you don’t see as readily is that the Township’s advanced B2B technology and service companies are also looking for talent.  But in their case, it’s for people with training in areas such as software engineering, robotics and CAD design, as well as for those with financial and other specialized business skills. 

I was put in mind of that recently when I attended the open house of a company, Omnicell, which was dedicating its office in Cranberry Woods.  Omnicell, which last year acquired the pharmacy robotics company formerly known as Aesynt, is a West Coast company that specializes in automating the administration of medicine in hospitals, clinics and other settings.  They have offices in a handful of U.S. cities as well as overseas.  And now Cranberry is their single largest operation with 500 full-time employees. 

Back when I started as Manager of the Township, the economy of Cranberry was still largely agricultural, along with some light manufacturing built around the intersection of two Interstate highways in our southern tier.  That was in the early ‘90s.  But by then two things had already become clear: one was that the Township was destined to grow rapidly, particularly with the opening of I-279 which sharply reduced travel times to Pittsburgh.  The other was that with the rapid advance of technology, knowledge-based industries were destined to surpass more traditional ones as the foundation of our economy.  

That was the point at which Cranberry’s Board of Supervisors made a courageous decision: they would step up and do whatever they could to guide the Township’s inevitable growth in constructive ways.  Specifically, they wanted to shape Cranberry into an attractive and welcoming place for people to live.  By offering residents a high quality of life, they reasoned, high quality companies would want to locate somewhere that could help them attract and retain talent.  The Board also wanted to create a physical environment that would appeal to advanced technology companies looking for a home.  And for that, they found a strong partner in Mine Safety Appliances Company, now MSA Safety, which had purchased a 332-acre tract of wooded land formerly used as a church retreat.  That retreat is now Cranberry Woods Business Park.

In hindsight, that seems like a natural decision for the Board to have made.  But at the time, it was a real struggle, meeting with considerable resistance.  However, the Supervisors understood the importance of expressing their vision clearly and then holding everyone accountable for fulfilling it.  Over time, using a series of partnerships, ordinances, and strategic investments, we were able to transform Cranberry from an abstract vision into a tangible community that enjoys a high quality of life where residents and businesses alike can flourish.  

It is particularly gratifying because, back when I started here, one of the complaints I kept hearing was that so many children of Cranberry residents would leave here to find work once they had gone through college; there really weren’t any jobs here where a well-educated young person could start a career.  Now it’s just the opposite.  

There are approximately 27,000 jobs in Cranberry today, including many well-paying professional positions.  Most of them are filled by people who commute here from all over Western Pennsylvania and beyhond.  At the same time, however, young people who grow up here now have a wealth of options to work, play and live – right in their own home town.  

I would love to hear your thoughts about Cranberry’s growth.  You can reach me at jerry.andree@cranberrytownship.org 

Mar 13

Cranberry doubles down on volunteers

Posted on March 13, 2018 at 10:18 AM by Jerry Andree

It’s no secret that America’s volunteer sector has experienced a slow decline for at least the past 15 years.  Observers have blamed it on a variety of things: people being too busy with work, spending too much time online, stress from changing family patterns, more frequent relocations, maybe even becoming too lazy.  

Some of those reasons may be valid.  But there’s another explanation that those of us in Cranberry’s municipal government have been leaning toward: it’s that there hasn’t been sufficient investment in America’s volunteer sector.  Without resources, nonprofits don’t have the capacity to engage volunteers effectively.  

To attract and retain volunteers today, you need to place a high value the volunteer’s time, provide them with the tools and training their work requires, strive to respect their family commitments, make their continued involvement as convenient as possible, and show appreciation for what they have accomplished.  

All of this matters a great deal to Cranberry and to every other community that depends on the vitality of its volunteer sector.  Our athletic associations are an excellent example of what a strong volunteer commitment can do.  But it’s our volunteer fire company that may be most mission critical.  One of the core functions of any municipality is to respond to emergencies.  The Cranberry Volunteer Fire Company, CTVFC, is a key strategic partner in answering those 9-1-1 calls.  

Back in June of 2015, the Township and CTVFC saw the challenges that faced us in attracting and retaining volunteers going forward.  So we embarked on a Strategic Planning Process.  It was grounded in a commitment to maintaining a highly qualified volunteer fire and rescue force well into the future.  The most likely alternative – a full-time paid fire department – would have cost our taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.

Our planning process involved a group of residents, firefighters, outside experts and Township officials.  They examined every aspect of our current and future fire service needs.  It represented our best collective thinking, and it resulted in a strategic plan which our Board of Supervisors and CTVFC formally adopted in 2016.  The plan outlined a number of steps that needed to be accomplished.

I’m pleased to report that implementing those steps is now well underway.  Last year, the Township reorganized staff to devote four full-time professionals to support the fire company’s efforts.  Just this month, our Board demonstrated its commitment to the Strategic Plan by authorizing $2.1 million in physical improvements to our two fire stations.  And CTVFC, for its part, is completely restructuring how they operate, consistent with the Strategic Plan.

All of this may be a gamble; after all, the decline among volunteers is not just a local issue; it’s a national problem with complicated causes.  But after 27 years as Township Manager, I wouldn’t recommend that anyone bet against the collective wisdom of Cranberry Township’s residents. 

Dec 04

Jimmy Stewart and me

Posted on December 4, 2017 at 12:10 PM by Jerry Andree

In the classic Christmas movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, just as James Stewart’s character becomes despondent over a series of reverses in his life, an angel appears to show him an alternate reality – what the life of his small community might have been had he never been born.  And in that alternate world, people were very unhappy.  Children died, family members were institutionalized, businesses failed, people lived in overpriced slums, parks became cemeteries, and so on. 

Cranberry is not the movie’s fictional Bedford Falls, nor am I James Stewart.  But, just as in the wartime film, there are some genuinely depressing issues, including the pain inflicted by today’s opioid crisis, that weigh heavily on my mind.  So as I drive around the Township, I sometimes wonder what Cranberry would be like in an alternate world where nobody intervened to guide and direct it into becoming what it is today.

For more than 25 years now, I’ve had the privilege of serving this community under the direction of a visionary Board of Supervisors.  By the late 1980s, they clearly saw that change was coming and knew that if they didn’t step up and steer that growth, it would roll right over them.  So they stood up, crafted a plan, enacted ordinances, imposed impact fees, and used the authority they were given under state law to mold the community into an attractive, efficient, and high-value place to live, work and play.  

That wasn’t easy to do.  Many Western Pennsylvania communities, in their zeal for growth, have given developers free rein to do whatever they wanted, no matter its impact on traffic, revenues, aesthetics, safety or anything else.  That was what developers expected from Cranberry, too.  But they were wrong, and a number of spectacular conflicts resulted.  

Cranberry’s growth is still taking place.  While we would like to believe the tools to shape that growth are now well-established, it is still premature to hoist the ‘Mission Accomplished’ banner.  But as I drive around the Township, I see evidence everywhere of our Board’s foresight.  As a Cranberry resident myself, I am able to do just about everything my family needs right here – shopping, dining, healthcare, recreation, church and much, much more. 

Cranberry has become a major employment center with approximately 22,000 good jobs.  We are an important regional retail center.  We are a regional recreation center with tournament-level athletic fields and more on the way.  And we have become the residential community of choice for a constantly growing number of individuals, couples and families from throughout the tri-state area.  

On Thanksgiving morning, I saw more than 1,000 people either running in the Turkey Trot or playing in one of the many Turkey Bowls taking place in our three parks.  They were playing and running and laughing and enjoying life, building friendships and strengthening neighborhoods.  So, like James Stewart’s character, I wondered what it would be like if those parks had never been built.  Would those social relationships ever happen?  Would neighborhoods and families have any place to come together?  Would children have the opportunity to participate in team sports?  I shudder to think what life here would be like without that critical component of our infrastructure.

However, It’s a Wonderful Life has a happy ending.  Stewart’s character realizes, despite his struggles, how much good he has been able to bring to his community over the years.  And the townsfolk rejoice at his turn of fortune.  I can appreciate that, and I am truly grateful for the opportunity I’ve been given to play a role in advancing Cranberry’s own wonderful life.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about our community’s growth.  You can reach me at jerry.andree@cranberrytownship.org