Strengthening Curwensville’s industrial and technology base, bringing in new jobs and new people, is the key requirement for a prosperous future for this community. With new jobs come the employment opportunities, population growth, amenities, cultural activities and tax revenue needed in order for the community to progress. The overall state of our country and the world at large does not make this a simple or easy task. However, we’ve no choice but to forge ahead.
The choice before us now is whether we try to continue to do what’s been done for the past number of decades, exclusively, or try some entirely new approaches. What we must ask ourselves is how much more of the same-old-same-old can we endure? We must look at our situation honestly and take stock in the positions we’ve taken as a community over the past decades and realize that these decisions, (and in-decisions) have landed us squarely where we are right now. We have to ask ourselves, is this good enough for me and my family? What are we missing? Can we do better?
The answer is YES, we can indeed do better. The answers to the problems we face lie within ourselves as individuals and our willingness to roll up our sleeves and take to the hard work that will be necessary to turn this ship around. Our success will rely on our ability to put aside differences, find common ground, and put considerable and consistent effort into inititiaves that serve the bettermetn of our entire community, especially our youth. There’s no magic bullet and it will take time. But we can build a better future, a more economically viable base and broader cultural activities if we choose to. Luckily, a lot of hard work has been done in this regard and there are many great things about our small town already in the works! This is why we need to lift up these successes as well as promote new ways of thinking which break old mindsets that are not serving the greater need of our community very well. I’m writing this letter to you in order to introduce some new initiatives in regards to community and economic development and to encourage your direct involvement in the process.
The past three years has been a real challenge to those of us on Boro Council. Many tough decisions had to be made in order to stop the economic hemorrhaging caused by years of over-spending and poor management. For the first time in years, the Boro now seems to be gaining strength and we are now very much on the road to recovery as our situation is much more stable. However, that doesn’t mean our work is over. In fact, in many respects, the real work is just now beginning, but the reality of our situation is that the main challenge before us is not as simple as creating jobs, or attracting industry. The challenge before us is much greater than this headline we all see repeated time and again for jobs, jobs, jobs. The challenge before us lies within ourselves. Can we grow as a community beyond our traditional comfort zones and open our minds and hearts to new ways of thinking and acting? Can we as a community engage on all levels in regular, consistent efforts to not only put our best foot forward in all ways, but to make sure that we demonstrate to the world all of this goodness through active, exciting and current marketing efforts? Can we attract the types of people we’ll need to in order to establish true economic viability?
Make no mistake, there are good things happening in Curwensville and this is encouraging and all the more reason for coming together on a regular basis to help share resources and lift up our successes to whole new levels! Now is the critical time when we can decide to be honest about our overall situation, look at what’s working, and do our best to magnify that, and likewise look at what’s not working and decide to try another approach in that department.
The hard fact is that we must now look in the mirror and decide whether we will be honest with ourselves and each other enough to face the fact that there is more to the economic well-being of a community than simply “jobs”. We must be honest with ourselves and reassess our community’s approach to economic development. We must strive to create an overall sense of community focus, and a wide, diverse cultural bent that will attract the types of jobs that our youth want to see. And along with these types of jobs, the types of community activities and cultural opportunities that will support them and bring in more people who will look at our thriving small community with a desire to be a part, to contribute.
What does culture have to do with economic development you may ask? Forging a progressive foundation of cultural activities to support the spirit of innovation, invention and high tech are crucial to attracting entrepreneurs to invest in our area. Attracting new entrepreneurs from outside our area and supporting endemic ones can result in significant job creation. But just as the best quality seed cannot produce healthy abundant fruit if it is planted in a soil that is not in good balance, nor will a community retain its youth if the activities and mindset are not in place to help feed the spirit of innovation.
This approach to the future envisions significant growth and development for the community. The community would grow to become a hub of industrial, high tech and cultural activity with many new firms located in the areas industrial and technology parks, new merchants gracing our downtown and events and businesses offering a broad variety of cultural and entertainment activities.
Lastly, we must ask ourselves whether we can build a local economy while not sacrificing our environment and health at the same time. The answer is, of course we can! But we must put significant effort into educating and inspiring one another to try. We must look at what other communities in our situation have done that is working and be willing to look to new models that will create hundreds of jobs while protecting our health. As yourself, would it be better to invest in actively helping 10-15 small businesses get up off the ground, employing 7-10 people each, or would it be better to sit back and wait for the State and/or Federal government to tell us what we should be doing within our own community with a vague promise of 100 jobs…possible jobs, mind you…from some large corporation not even based here. Granted, the first option is much more work, however, it is our best hope of a truly prosperous, and stable, future, especially if we can conduct such an effort in direct cooperation with our young people. We say we want to “create jobs to keep our young people here.” If this truly is the case, we certainly should be asking our youth exactly what types of jobs they want to see.
At this, our inaugural meeting of the new Economic Development Committee, we will take a hard look at the traditional FOUR DIFFERENT KEY APPROACHES to community development and will explore options to include the citizenry of the region in these various processes to building on the solid foundations already laid and to create innovative new projects for the aspects not yet fully or properly represented in our community.
I could write for volumes on this subject and have, in fact spent my my first three years serving on Boro Council investigating, researching and trying to share what I’ve found with our Council and general population. This has been most challenging in light of the obstacles we’ve faced over this time. Therefore, I’m very glad to suggest to you that this community meeting on February 10th is the result of many people waking up to the fact that something must change. This is indeed a true community effort and we need to hear from you if it is to remain so!
Below you will find FOUR DIFFERENT KEY APPROACHES to community development. A friend of mine sent me this raw text some years ago and it really struck me as true! Unfortunately, I do not have the source, but the information is wonderful none-the-less and I ask that you please review these approaches, their descriptions and how communities traditionally either support or oppose each individual approach and what the possible trade-offs can be. As yourself as you read this “Where do I fit in to these views?”. Better yet, ask your teenagers their thoughts on this subject.
Some of the research I’ve conducted into into the activities of the region’s economic development entities, schools, sportsman’s clubs, chambers of commerce as well as other civic groups it is clear that the following first TWO APPROACHES are rather well represented within our community. We’ve some work to do on the remaining two.
APPROACH ONE–Industrial Growth Is The Key
Bringing in new jobs is the key to the community’s future. A strong local industrial base
will be the foundation of a prosperous future for all.
What Can Be Done?
- Invest in physical infrastructure such as roads, water, sewer, and gas to support industry.
- Provide tax incentives to attract new businesses.
- Invest in workforce development tailored to meet the demands of incoming industry.
- More jobs means less unemployment and demand for community services.
- More jobs mean more opportunities for youth to stay.
- More jobs mean more revenue to improve schools and recreation programs.
- This approach subsidizes new growth at the expense of existing residents.
- Industrial growth can mean a decline in farmland and other green space, decreased air quality, and increased traffic congestion.
- Many new jobs for “locals” are part-time and low wage with no little to no benefits.
A Likely Tradeoff?
Focusing on growth and bringing in new jobs may come at the price of losing the non-economic factors that contribute to quality of life such as clean air, scenic beauty, low crime, and overall rural, small town character.
APPROACH TWO–Preserve Community Character
The attractiveness of this community is in its rural character and scenic natural beauty. We must work to preserve our cultural, historical, and natural heritage.
What Can Be Done?
- Invest resources in the community’s existing assets, such as downtown.
- Utilize natural, cultural, and historical resources in terms of tourism.
- Eco-tourism is one of the fastest growing industries in the region.
- Preservation means less change and expense for the community.
- This community is a great place to live. Let’s not give that up.
- People come here for the rural character and scenic beauty.
- This approach does not address the problem of our youth leaving and not coming back.
- Can preservation adequately address the community’s unemployment problem?
- Many people do not want to see any measure that could interfere with their property rights.
A Likely Tradeoff?
Focusing on community preservation could mean that we never have the “amenities” of larger communities and it could also mean fewer job opportunities.
APPROACH THREE–Riding the Technology Wave
The technological revolution is the key to the community’s future. In order to secure a brighter future the community needs to be transformed into a high-tech oasis that would grow and attract entrepreneurs.
What Can Be Done?
- Make significant investments in information technology (IT) infrastructure such as broadband and wireless internet and public access television.
- Invest heavily in IT education in public schools and support high-tech seminars and training seminars and training for business and community leaders as well as the workforce.
Focus economic development on “growing” local micro-enterprises through programs such as small business incubators with an IT and entrepreneurial emphasis.
- Offer targeted campaigns and “contests” to encourage innovation amongst our region’s young entrepreneurs and technology specialists to offer start up funding opportunities.
- Many IT jobs are high paying and are of a “clean” industry.
- 100 companies employing 5 people each is better than 5 companies with 100 in terms of economic stability and economic viability.
- This kind of local culture speaks directly to the issue of retaining the community’s “best and brightest” and doing something real and direct to eliminate the “brain drain” as our youth leave and don’t come back.
- This approach is too youth oriented; we are an older community.
- The high-tech approach requires large investments with no guaranteed payoff.
- High-tech is very unstable. Look at all of the internet start ups that have failed.
Transforming the community through technology investments could significantly alter the community’s character and could increase the gap between the haves and the have-nots. An effective work-force re-training initiative will also be necessary.
APPROACH FOUR–Focus on Our Social Infrastructure
Focusing on community itself is where we must begin in discussions about the future. Improving the overall level and quality of civic involvement, fostering collaboration, and developing our human resources will improve the community more than anything else. A vibrant night life, artistic and cultural events, and a resident artist community is crucial to this aim. Without such a foundation, younger entrepreneurs will not move here.
What Can Be Done?
- Invest more in education and opportunities for youth and include them in the civic process.
- Focus more on community participation in education, government, and civic associations.
- See that local governments work collaboratively with each other and with other sectors, putting community ahead of jurisdiction and the well-being of the community ahead of personal and political agendas.
- This would help improve government -citizen relationships.
- Cooperation between jurisdictions and between government and the private sector could help increase resources as well as make existing resources go farther.
- A community can accomplish a lot more than single individuals.
- This approach is too slow. The community needs jobs now.
- The Town and County are different. There is a we/they mentality that cannot be overcome.
- Most people aren’t willing to be involved.
A Likely Tradeoff?
Focusing on the community’s social infrastructure may mean that people have to let go of long held biases and become more open to different points of view. To facilitate this the community leaders must present an overwhelming message of open-mindedness and acceptance of new ideas even in the face of significant public resistance. Educational seminars, workshops and other outreach events held on a regular basis will help acclimate the general populace to such change and continually hi-light success stories from other communities.
I hope you decide to join us on February 10th. Change for the better will occur for Curwensville if we can come together as a community to address all of the needs of our community, not just a few. Working together the aforementioned FOUR APPROACHES can serve to build a better community and a brighter more prosperous future. Together, all FOUR APPROACHES can work in harmony to provide our youth and entrepreneurs of all ages fertile ground in which they can plant their dreams of prosperity and innovation.
It’s up to our entire community to take responsibility for our situation. Work with community leaders and your local planning department to ensure that the future of your community will benefit everyone.
Your voice matters. I hope to hear your opinions and ideas on this matter on Feb. 10.
Curwensville Boro Council
Economic Development Committee Chair
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