Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato told local business leaders today that much of the region's future development hinges on growth at the Pittsburgh International Airport.
Onorato spoke before members of the Airport Area Chamber of Commerce in Moon, where he recounted highlights of his seven years as county executive and looked toward what the future may hold for the county.
Onorato, who lost his bid to become Pennsylvania governor last year, will not seek a third term as county executive. He has served in the position since 2004.
"When people talk about Pittsburgh this and Pittsburgh that, they're really talking about Allegheny County," he said. "And we're in a much better position than the rest of the country."
Onorato said the airport region in coming years will prove crucial to the county, not only for transportation but as an economic center for the growing Marcellus Shale industry.
He called Marcellus Shale gas drilling a "golden opportunity" for Western Pennsylvania. He said he hopes the 9,000 acres of county-owned land surrounding the airport will bring companies in the Marcellus Shale Coalition to the county.
"I feel it could be a boon for the county," he said. "I'm going to be meeting with Marcellus Shale companies. I want to send a message loud and clear: Business is open for Marcellus Shale in the airport area."
The county executive also touched upon transportation, commenting briefly on recent Port Authority service cuts.
“[The Port Authority] is always in crisis mode," he said. "The Port Authority will go under if the state refuses to fund it."
Outgoing Gov. Ed Rendell shifted $45 million in unused federal money to the Port Authority recently, but many Moon bus routes will be eliminated due to the agency's budget shortfalls.
“We’ve given it until June of `12 for the state to fix its own funding formula,” he said.
Onorato also focused on how the future of the Pittsburgh International Airport will impact the region. He said the airport is frequented each year by more than 2 million people from outside the county, and he touted efforts in recent years to bring businesses into communities that surround it.
In order for the region to keep pace with larger transportation hubs on the East Coast, he said, the airport will need to expand its services.
"Philadelphia [International Airport] and LaGuardia are both expanding," Onorato said. "And Cincinnati and Cleveland are both downsizing. It's the No. 1 issue that is discussed with every CEO in this town -- we need more flights at our airport."
With just 11 months left in office, Onorato said he hasn't decided on his next role. He hasn't ruled out political life, he said, but he also is exploring options in the private sector.
"The issues that were around back then [when he first took office], we were able to tackle," he said. "