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Regional Future Planning in NEPA

May 26, 2014 / Community / Trackback

Recently I attended a com­mu­nity lead­er­ship meet­ing at the stun­ning Radis­son Lack­awanna Sta­tion, a six-story land­mark that offers time­less ele­gance and mod­ern ser­vices while main­tain­ing the his­toric building’s orig­i­nal glory. Pre­vi­ously serv­ing as a pas­sen­ger train sta­tion, the beau­ti­ful neo­clas­si­cal struc­ture is listed with the U.S. National Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places and received the 2011 Ren­o­va­tion Excel­lence Award. If you visit Scran­ton, PA, stay or visit — you will not be disappointed.

The pur­pose of the tecBridge meet­ing was to dis­cuss major eco­nomic devel­op­ment strate­gies for #NEPA570 — or more prop­erly known as north­east­ern Penn­syl­va­nia, and how the orga­ni­za­tion fits with those strategies.

This is a region of 13 — 16 coun­ties (or more), depend­ing on who is defin­ing it. In no par­tic­u­lar order of attrib­utes, it is largely rural, on the Appalachian trail, old Anthracite coal coun­try, new Mar­cel­lus Shale coun­try (with both the eco­nomic ben­e­fits and envi­ron­men­tal con­cerns that come with it), fic­tional home to the TV show The Office, and beauty and tourism of the Poconos. It’s also home to 16 col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties, a small but bud­ding startup com­mu­nity, a trans­porta­tion and logis­tics infra­struc­ture and cor­ri­dor, sig­nif­i­cant demo­graphic and cul­tural changes since 9/11, low wage earn­ings, high unem­ploy­ment, and brain drain. The hub is the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton metro area, pop­u­la­tion 563,631 (2010 US Cen­sus) which is com­prised of the two most pop­u­lous counties.

The cob­bling of coun­ties in the north­east­ern quad­rant of the Com­mon­wealth started to use the cur­rent day def­i­n­i­tion of ‘region’ about 15 years ago, though there have been sev­eral attempts over the past 6 decades (+/-) to define and rein­vent itself, reel from the con­tin­ual increase in an aging pop­u­la­tion, child­hood poverty, low high school grad­u­a­tion rates, and weak eco­nomic devel­op­ment, to bring back the might of the infa­mous anthracite coal crack­ing days which fueled the indus­trial rev­o­lu­tion. Like other com­mu­ni­ties across the coun­try, it has mis­fired in its attempts to hedo­nis­ti­cally focus on low wage earn­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing and con­tact cen­ter indus­tries — even worse, off­shored almost as soon as they began to make a pos­i­tive impact on high unem­ploy­ment rates.

As mod­ern day tech­nol­ogy cre­ated oppor­tu­nity in other areas of the coun­try, ambi­tious youth largely packed their bags and chased it — it rooted here in its infancy through uni­ver­sity sys­tems but never really took off as a real job cre­ator. Despite a $15 mil­lion Work­force Inno­va­tion in Regional Eco­nomic Devel­op­ment (WIRED) grant from the U.S. Depart­ment of Labor for projects and pro­grams asso­ci­ated with train­ing the work­force in the region in order to fur­ther encour­age New York City-based com­pa­nies to estab­lish their back-up and back-office oper­a­tions in the ten-county area (Berks, Car­bon, Lack­awanna, Lehigh, Luzerne, Mon­roe, Northamp­ton, Pike, Schuylkill and Wayne) — back-up and back-office largely never materialized.

Luz Schwia_Fast_Facts.pdf


The strate­gic plan rec­om­mended in the Great Valley-Pennsylvania’s I-81 Tech­nol­ogy Cor­ri­dor: Grow­ing a 21st. Cen­tury Knowl­edge Econ­omy in Lack­awanna and Luzerne Coun­ties report by the Bat­telle Memo­r­ial Insti­tute in 1999 was a mas­sive under­tak­ing that was never suf­fi­ciently mas­saged — though bits and pieces cer­tainly were. To hear par­tic­i­pants at the meet­ing won­der aloud if the report is still rel­e­vant made me cringe not ever so slightly. The region never com­pleted its goal of tran­si­tion from an indus­trial man­u­fac­tur­ing base to an information-driven econ­omy, though its eco­nomic devel­op­ment agen­cies embraced the con­cept and rec­om­men­da­tions of the find­ings to develop a long-term plan to do so. Like so many long-term ini­tia­tives that start off in the right direc­tion, valiantly and strong, this one waned under non-sustained lead­er­ship and lack of con­ti­nu­ity, before it was realized.

The foun­da­tional macro objec­tive to ‘build con­sen­sus and a shared vision of the region’s future’ was never fully achieved. Though to qual­ify for large Fed­eral and State grants you need a size­able head­count, to get a quar­ter of the State with so many coun­ties under its umbrella on the same page is per­haps too large of a geo­graphic region, with too many local gov­ern­ments, eco­nomic devel­op­ment agen­cies and micro agen­das, heck — even dif­fer­ent cui­sine and dialects, and not enough con­tin­u­ous lead­er­ship capa­ble of view­ing the ‘big pic­ture’. But by no means is it dead in the water.

Cheers to tecBridge for try­ing to reignite the flame. I’m curi­ous to see where this goes and its role in forg­ing ahead toward greater eco­nomic pros­per­ity for a region that could seri­ously use a break. Seriously.

Count me in.

 



2 comments
Marty Wolff
Marty Wolff

Karla, as always you offer clear thinking and excellent writing. 

karlaporter
karlaporter

@Marty Wolff Thanks for stopping by and reading Marty. I always enjoy your visits =)