Archive

ShareThis Page
Baby boomers witnessed drastic change in Western Pennsylvania | TribLIVE.com
Westmoreland

Baby boomers witnessed drastic change in Western Pennsylvania

Tribune-Review
| Saturday, December 31, 2016 11:00 p.m.
gtrboomerhealth01043017
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Dr. Matthew D’Onofrio of Walworth Medical Associates examines Charles Wolfe, 81, of Jeannette, as part of a regular physical checkup and a booster for pneumonia on Wednesday, May 3, 2017.
gtrboomerhealth04231701
Christian Tyler Randolph | Tribune-Review
Drs. Courtney and Ryan Floyd, outside the Mountain View Family Health Center in Greensburg. The married couple chose to stay in Westmoreland County after completing a residency program through Excela Health.
gtrboomerhealth04231702
Christian Tyler Randolph | Tribune-Review
Drs. Courtney and Ryan Floyd outside the Mountain View Family Health Center in Greensburg. The married couple chose to stay in Westmoreland County after completing an Excela Health residency program.
gtrboomerhealth02043017
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Dr. Matthew D’Onofrio of Walworth Medical Associates examines Charles Wolfe, 81, of Jeannette, as part of a regular physical checkup and a booster for pneumonia on Wednesday, May 3, 2017.
gtrboomerhealth03043017
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Dr. Matthew D’Onofrio of Walworth Medical Associates examines Charles Wolfe, 81, of Jeannette, who came in to see the doctor for his regular physical checkup and a booster for pneumonia Wednesday, May 3, 2017. Wolfe, who lives with his wife, Janet, receives regular help from home caregivers after his wife had to have her leg amputated because of an infection.
gtrboomerhealth04043017
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Dr. Matthew D’Onofrio of Walworth Medical Associates talks to Charles Wolfe, 81, of Jeannette, during a regular physical checkup on Wednesday, May 3, 2017.
gtrboomerhealth01043017
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Dr. Matthew D’Onofrio of Walworth Medical Associates examines Charles Wolfe, 81, of Jeannette, as part of a regular physical checkup and a booster for pneumonia on Wednesday, May 3, 2017.
gtrboomerhealth04231701
Christian Tyler Randolph | Tribune-Review
Drs. Courtney and Ryan Floyd, outside the Mountain View Family Health Center in Greensburg. The married couple chose to stay in Westmoreland County after completing a residency program through Excela Health.
gtrboomerhealth04231702
Christian Tyler Randolph | Tribune-Review
Drs. Courtney and Ryan Floyd outside the Mountain View Family Health Center in Greensburg. The married couple chose to stay in Westmoreland County after completing an Excela Health residency program.
gtrboomerhealth02043017
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Dr. Matthew D’Onofrio of Walworth Medical Associates examines Charles Wolfe, 81, of Jeannette, as part of a regular physical checkup and a booster for pneumonia on Wednesday, May 3, 2017.
gtrboomerhealth03043017
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Dr. Matthew D’Onofrio of Walworth Medical Associates examines Charles Wolfe, 81, of Jeannette, who came in to see the doctor for his regular physical checkup and a booster for pneumonia Wednesday, May 3, 2017. Wolfe, who lives with his wife, Janet, receives regular help from home caregivers after his wife had to have her leg amputated because of an infection.
gtrboomerhealth04043017
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Dr. Matthew D’Onofrio of Walworth Medical Associates talks to Charles Wolfe, 81, of Jeannette, during a regular physical checkup on Wednesday, May 3, 2017.
gtrBboom0101201701
Christian Tyler Randolph | Tribune-Review
Jeff Cortileso at Trafford Commerce Court Industrial Park in Trafford, Pa. on Tuesday Dec. 13, 2016. Twenty-five years ago Cortileso bought the Trafford plant which was planned for demolition and converted it into the industrial park that it still operates as today.
gtrBboom0101201702
Christian Tyler Randolph | Tribune-Review
Jeff Cortileso at Trafford Commerce Court Industrial Park in Trafford, Pa. on Tuesday Dec. 13, 2016. Twenty-five years ago Cortileso bought the Trafford plant which was planned for demolition and converted it into the industrial park that it still operates as today.
gtrBboom0101201704
Christian Tyler Randolph | Tribune-Review
The Trafford Commerce Court Industrial Park owned by Jeff Cortileso in Trafford, Pa. on Tuesday Dec. 13, 2016.
gtrBboom0101201703
Christian Tyler Randolph | Tribune-Review
Jeff Cortileso at Trafford Commerce Court Industrial Park in Trafford, Pa. on Tuesday Dec. 13, 2016. Twenty-five years ago Cortileso bought the Trafford plant which was planned for demolition and converted it into the industrial park that it still operates as today.

They debuted the same day.

Born about 30 miles apart, Jeff Cortileso was the New Year’s Day baby at Citizens General Hospital in New Kensington; Jim Bavuso at Mon Valley.

“They had a picture of me on the front page of the newspaper,” Cortileso said. “My mom saved it. I still have it somewhere.”

Bavuso and Cortileso are quintessential baby boomers. Their births on Jan. 1, 1957, put them among a wave of 4.3 million newborns that washed over the nation that year — the height of the post-war generational surge. They’re part of the last generation to come of age during a time of growth in Westmoreland County, where a population that peaked at 392,000 in 1980 is closer to 358,000 today.

The baby boom spiked a decade earlier in Westmoreland County than it did nationally. Mothers here gave birth to 7,799 babies in 1947. Births in both 1952 and 1957 came close, topping 7,700 in each year. But then the county followed a widespread, post-1957 birth decline. When national births rebounded in the late 1970s, the decline continued in Westmoreland County.

By 1993, annual deaths here started outnumbering births. In 2014, about 1,400 more people died than were born here.

Over the next year, the Tribune-Review will examine the baby-boomer generation’s impact on the region and implications confronting the area while the offspring of the Greatest Generation approach their senior years.

Opportunity scarce

As people like Cortileso and Bavuso move toward retirement and the county’s population continues to age and shrink, civic leaders and community planners must consider new challenges for schools, social services and community characteristics that bloomed around the baby boom.

Such concerns are neither unique nor new to Westmoreland County.

Southwestern Pennsylvania’s population started shrinking and growing older more than three decades ago as the collapse of steel and loss of heavy industry prompted an “age–selective,” “diaspora-level departure” from the area, University of Pittsburgh regional economist Chris Briem said.

Young workers with lots of time in front of them and a lack of local economic opportunities left. As a result, fewer young families brought up children in the area, and the local workforce became relatively older.

Pittsburgh and some of its suburbs in more recent years have bucked that trend, thanks largely to an influx of young professionals.

!function(e,t,n,s){var i=”InfogramEmbeds”,o=e.getElementsByTagName(t),d=o[0],a=/^http:/.test(e.location)?”http:”:”https:”;if(/^/{2}/.test(s)&&(s=a+s),window[i]&&window[i].initialized)window[i].process&&window[i].process();else if(!e.getElementById(n)){var r=e.createElement(t);r.async=1,r.id=n,r.src=s,d.parentNode.insertBefore(r,d)}}(document,”script”,”infogram-async”,”//e.infogr.am/js/dist/embed-loader-min.js”);

Close to home

But even as so many looked for opportunity elsewhere, others including Cortileso and Bavuso stayed.

Both were born into small-town, blue-collar families, with Cortileso’s father working as a steelworker and Bavuso’s for the railroad. Both had stay-at-home mothers. Both remained within 10 miles of where they were born as their generation stamped its mark on politics, public education, health care and the economy, down to the local level.

Both have also confronted the effects of the region’s shifting demographics as they’ve led dramatically different lives.

Cortileso earned a football scholarship to West Virginia University after starring on the gridiron at Leechburg High School. When he graduated in 1979 from WVU, Cortileso wanted to come home to teach and coach.

Seeking a niche

But as colleges pumped out record graduating classes from the boomer generation, many small towns were already in the throes of population decline. Elementary schools were closing and high school classes were shrinking, leaving Cortileso to put his dream on hold.

Between 1950 and 1960, kindergarten enrollment in Westmoreland County went from 550 students to nearly 2,200, according to census data. During the same time, the number of students between the ages of 5 and 17 enrolled in local schools increased from 53,280 to 75,578, a 42 percent spike.

By 1970, the number of students had swelled to 90,580 but by 1980 — the year after Cortileso graduated — Westmoreland County student enrollments had fallen to 77,421.

The number of students in the county today is fewer than 49,000, according to estimates from the 2015 American Community Survey.

Cortileso went to work at a Stearns & Roger coal gasification plant in Indiana, Pa. Later, he moved into sales, became the lead salesman with a local environmental company and began officiating high school and college games. Slowly but surely, doors opened that would lead Cortileso and his business partner, another blue-collar kid, to become developers at the former Westinghouse circuit breaker plant in Trafford.

The plant, along the Westmoreland-Allegheny county line, employed 1,000 workers before it closed in 1982.

In the 1990s, the partners launched a movie studio in one building. It flourished for several years and hosted a variety of Hollywood productions, including “Kingpin” and “Wonder Boys.” That market shriveled when the state temporarily suspended film tax credits.

The partners pivoted and found new tenants.

Today, Cortileso happily manages a massive business park there — “70 acres and about a million square feet under roof.”

“I like what we’re doing here,” he said. “There were a lot of good, hardworking people in this valley, and we’ve even brought in some new ones.”



Changing labor market

Nearly 43 percent of employed county residents worked in manufacturing in 1950, according to census reports. Primary metal manufacturing was the largest industry by employment, with 17,253 workers, figures show.

Today, manufacturing accounts for about 13 percent of jobs in the county, according to federal Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Health care and social assistance now make up the largest industry by employment, with nearly 30,000 county residents working such jobs, figures show.

Bavuso earned an associate degree in electrical technology from Dean Tech in Pittsburgh after graduating from Elizabeth Forward High School. He later landed a job at the Mitchell Power Station in Washington County, one of several massive coal-fired power plants that lit the region for decades.

He was among 70 workers idled by the plant closing in 2014.

“You get a job like that (at a power plant), and you expect it will last for a lifetime,” said Bavuso, who worked at Mitchell for 28 years. “We were making money, but it wasn’t enough.”

Despite the jolt of being out of work in his late 50s, Bavuso said he moved seamlessly into a job with Cascade USA in Monongahela servicing air compressors.

Bavuso retired for a second time last month. This time, it was his decision.

Vicious cycle

Planning officials and civic leaders fear a dearth of skilled workers and entrepreneurs as boomers continue to exit the labor force. They worry Westmoreland County’s rapidly aging population — with nearly a quarter of those who live here already 65 or older and a median age of 46.6 compared to 37.8 for the nation — will make it difficult to replace baby boomers.

And if the workforce shrinks too much, employers could leave, further accelerating decline.

Jim Smith is president and CEO of Economic Growth Connection of Westmoreland. His group is among several including the county and the Westmoreland Chamber of Commerce embarking on “Reimagining Our Westmoreland,” a planning project they hope will combat the area’s demographic changes and attract more diversity.

“It’s absolutely critical to the future of the region that we do so,” Smith said.

“Really when you talk about immediacy, demographically we are there,” said Greg Daigle, business development officer for Economic Growth Connection of Westmoreland. “It’s turning the Titanic. It takes a very long time in order to do that.”

Different outlook

For now, Cortileso and Bavuso, like many of their peers, eschew traditional notions of retirement

Cortileso, a good natured 6-foot, 5-inch bear of a man, lives 10 minutes from his childhood home in West Leechburg, where he grew up in a close-knit family that celebrated its heritage with the varied cuisines of Italy, Poland and Ukraine at holiday gatherings.

Cortileso says he’s been blessed that his three children have adapted to Western Pennsylvania’s new economy, where health care, energy and the service industry are king. They live nearby, and he often sees his three grandchildren.

One daughter is a nurse, another is in management training at an Olive Garden restaurant and his son is in sales, servicing the burgeoning natural gas drilling industry.



Changing communities

Over the years, much has changed in the Mon Valley communities Bavuso has called home.

Sunnyside, the tiny village where he grew up, lost its post office. Axleton School, where he attended elementary school in classrooms bursting with childhood baby boomers, closed long ago.

Signs of such changes exist throughout the county.

Vacant houses and blight dot small towns like Monessen and Jeannette.

Giant manufacturers such as Westinghouse and U.S. Steel play a less pivotal role in the local economy than they once did, even as long-shuttered factories remain, a select few appropriated for new uses.Bavuso has changed as well. He is settling in and enjoying his grandchildren — there are nine of them close by, including one his daughter adopted from Russia.

Like scores of recently retired boomers, he’s weighing a second act.

“I’ll probably find something part time sooner or later,” he said. “But it will be something I want to do rather than something I have to do, and I haven’t found that yet.”

Brian Bowling, Debra Erdley and Michael Walton are Tribune-Review staff writers.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.