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Cranberry's Booming Business Sector: Starting almost from scratch, Cranberry built itself into a technology powerhouse

In retrospect, it seems surprising. But until the late 1980s, Cranberry Township, situated in the southwestern corner of Butler County, was largely unknown in the region. Even among its own residents, it was typically referred to by the names of the various post offices serving the Township such as Mars, Evans City, Zelienople or Warrendale. From its start in 1804, Cranberry had been a thinly populated agricultural settlement without a central business district. Eventually the Turnpike, and later I-79, drew a handful of warehouse and service entrepreneurs into its boundaries. Yet today, Cranberry Township is a thriving community of 32,000, a major regional employment center with more than 1,000 businesses of every type, 24,000 jobs, and a vibrant technology community, much of which is based in Cranberry Woods Office Park. How did that happen?


I-279 North, which opened in 1989, linked Cranberry to downtown Pittsburgh in less than half an hour. That forced the Township’s elected Board of Supervisors to make an existential choice: either to let market forces spawn haphazard shopping strips and subdivisions throughout the Township – forms of development which would likely devour Cranberry within 15 years – or create ordinances to guide future development into a sustainable new community. Cranberry Township chose the latter, and then went even further. Breaking with the region’s prevailing practice of offering incentive packages to attract business investment, the Board turned the other way – instituting Impact Fees on new development to finance local road and park improvements. We found a kindred spirit in Mine Safety Appliances, now MSA Safety. In 1983, the company acquired a wooded 356-acre church retreat in the Township for its own R&D and light assembly operations. But they also saw it as a home for other technology companies. Today, Cranberry Woods Office Park is not only MSA’s corporate headquarters, it is also home to PPG’s Architectural Coatings headquarters, to Omnicell – formerly McKesson Automation, maker of pharmacy robotics – and to NetApp, a major data services and cloud-based data management company. FedEx Supply Chain Management, which provides logistical support for warehousing, fulfillment, and product returns, maintains its headquarters in Cranberry Woods Office Park, as do a variety of financial and business service companies. But for the past 12 years, the Park’s single biggest business resident has been Westinghouse, whose nuclear business appeared poised for takeoff as the new millennium arrived. Despite its more recent struggles, the company remains in the nuclear energy business, although with fewer employees than at its peak a decade ago.


Cranberry Woods Office Park is not the Township’s only cluster of B2B technology businesses. Cranberry Business Park, through its parent company, Chaska Property Advisors, has created 750,000 square feet of flex space for a variety of well-known and lesser-known companies. For example, the 300 engineers and service technicians who work for Johnson Controls as part of its massive smart building supply business, are based at the location in Cranberry Business Park. IPEG, the International Plastics Equipment Group whose machinery is used to create a wide range of plastic products, makes its home in Cranberry Business Park. So does TrueCommerce, a global company with 150 Cranberry employees that specializes in making electronic business data connections between transacting parties. AREVA, part of Orano USA, which provides nuclear decommissioning, spent fuel management, and other services to commercial and federal markets, is housed in Cranberry Business Park. And next-door neighbor Kawneer, a division of Alcoa’s Arconic unit, formerly TRACO, has been among Cranberry’s largest employers for decades, producing an assortment of door, wall and window systems for commercial buildings. Part of RIDC’s 925-acre Thorn Hill Industrial Park is also in Cranberry, with its three million square feet housing over 100 companies, including Mitsubishi Electric, Eaton, and the German-based medical equipment maker, Fresenius Kabi. Several other business parks operate in Cranberry as well.


Jerry Andree, who Cranberry’s Board recruited as Township Manager in 1992 to help implement its vision of a sustainable community, is delighted to see the job opportunities now available for residents and their children, as well as for other knowledge workers. But, consistent with the Board’s rejection of tax incentives to lure businesses, Andree has focused the Township’s efforts elsewhere. “We don’t create the jobs,” he acknowledged. “We create the manmade environment that encourages those kinds of companies to come. Our Board’s guidance was to build a world-class community where people would want to live. Everything else would take care of itself. “The residents we’re attracting have enticed other technology companies to move here because companies want to locate where they can recruit and retain employees and where their employees will want to live,” he said. As a result, Cranberry’s industrial development still isn’t over. Shell’s cracker plant in neighboring Beaver County, for example, is expected to greatly accelerate Cranberry’s already thriving plastics sector. And data management firms are finding Cranberry’s tech talent pool very attractive. But it is the Township’s deliberately diversified business portfolio which is expected to keep Cranberry moving forward, no matter what twists and turns the nation’s economy doles out.