At 72, the Rev. Cora Jean Black has seen her share of change -- some good, some not so good. Some mightily unwanted.
But sitting in her jam-packed office at Sea-Jay’s Marriage Center in New Stanton, where you can tie the knot, close on your mortgage and get your temporary car tags all under one roof, Black says there’s no denying that changes have transformed her once-sedate Westmoreland County hamlet into a bustling junction.
With small towns across America shrinking, New Stanton, with 2,173 residents, bucks the trend, posting double-digit population growth in the past decade, despite an overall decline in the county.
It’s a populace that swells through the day when thousands of employees report to work at sprawling facilities operated by UPS, SuperValu, Westinghouse, Fed Ex and eateries, banks, hotels and other businesses.
More workers will arrive when the state Department of Environmental Protection tops off an office building to consolidate operations from Greensburg and Uniontown.
The influx has brought a level of fiscal comfort to the borough, which hasn’t raised taxes since its 1972 incorporation, council President Scott Sistek said.
The community capitalized on its location at the juncture of Interstate 70 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike, said Chris Bova, deputy director of the Westmoreland County Department of Planning and Development.
“It’s a strategic location,” Bova said. “It’s the gateway to Westmoreland County, and it’s a heavily trafficked area with transportation networks coming together.”
Yet the real game-changer may happen in 2015 when a $50 million highway project widens I-70 from four to six lanes, relocates access ramps and eliminates an outdated design that debuted with the road in the 1950s.
The project is pivotal for the county because it improves access to “open spaces” available for development, Bova said.
“I think we’re going to see a lot more businesses being interested in locating here. This is one of the best things that can happen to this borough,” Sistek said.
With the borough’s roads deemed the busiest in the county, according to a study done for the nonprofit SmartGrowth Partnership, and more than 12,000 cars passing through the New Stanton turnpike interchange daily, PennDOT officials said the project is long overdue for the town that bills itself as the “Highway Hub of Western Pennsylvania.”
Not everyone is thrilled.
Some business owners worry the realigned ramps will direct potential patrons away from their doorsteps.
“We had a lot of people for it, and some don’t like it,” said Mayor Nicholas DeSantis. “We can’t stop it. It’s going to happen.”
Just four square miles, New Stanton once was part of Hempfield Township but was incorporated when a group of business owners, foretelling good times to come, decided any tax windfall should remain in the community.
Back then, the borough was mostly farms, a couple of gas stations, a mom-and-pop motel or two and an iconic, orange-roofed Howard Johnson’s that packed in the crowds with its Friday night all-you-can-eat fried clam special.
Center Avenue, the town’s main drag, was a bumpy gravel path when Black was growing up, she said.
Times changed and, depending on the day and time of year, between 4,000 and 8,000 cars a day traverse Center Avenue, lined with drive- through eateries, chain hotels, convenience stores and banks.
Change crept in during the 1970s, when fast food caught on and McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken opened shop in the borough.
The biggest boost came in 1972, when UPS came to town. Today, UPS spokeswoman Laurie Mallis said, the shipping conglomerate employs nearly 2,000 people in its 50-acre distribution hub. Workers process more than a half-million packages daily, then dispatch them in the company’s trademark brown trucks that whirl past Black’s wedding chapel 24 hours a day.
Another win came when food distribution giant SuperValu expanded its operation at its mammoth facility. It employs more than 540 workers, said company spokesman Jeff Swanson.