The Fourth Economy team completed several client engagements this year in our home state of Pennsylvania. The Commonwealth’s economic character remains diverse, anchored on each side by first and second-class cities with just over 50 smaller third-class cities dominating the remaining landscape. While Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are realizing steady gains, in many ways the greatest opportunities and challenges remain in the smaller more rural communities. The good news is that increasingly shifts in resident preferences and the deployment of new technologies are placing these smaller, authentic communities in the bulls-eye for new investment in growth.
Among our Pennsylvania projects, the team worked with the City of Lebanon to develop a new economic development plan and downtown reinvestment strategy. We also worked with the Armstrong County School District just outside of Pittsburgh on a school building highest and best use analysis. And finally a project with the Butler County Community College (BC3) focused on developing an innovative new system for the delivery and promotion of its economic development services.
Three Keystone themes emerged:
1) Urban Investment
Pennsylvania towns are not just recognizing the value and competitiveness of their smaller urban centers – they are doing something about it. New leadership is increasingly taking the reigns, formalizing central business district activities and real estate development opportunities. Housing remains a fundamental need and opportunity to attract both younger professionals and “empty-nesters.” Both Lebanon and Armstrong County are realizing new gains in these areas and are ensuring their asset base is ready to accommodate future growth.
2) Community Colleges
Community Colleges are providing needed capacity not just in education and training but also in the delivery of economic development services. Smaller towns or rural regions lucky enough to have a community college partner serving their community, can gain a clear value proposition. In Butler County, Pennsylvania, BC3 is positioned to serve as the primary point of contact and convener for the County’s economic development service delivery – a relatively new and unique role for a community college to play. Just this year BC3 was named Pennsylvania’s top community college.
Broad community partnerships remain a key to success. No one organization or person can do it on their own. It takes both public and private sector representatives and investors to make the difference. Assembling the right people, identifying roles and motivating them to act is what is moving the needle in Pennsylvania communities both large and small. Fourth Economy frequently serves as a connector in this area, building new collaborations among diverse stakeholders.
We learn from each of our client projects as much as our clients learn from us. These are three important themes from Pennsylvania that apply to communities across the country. The Fourth Economy team wishes all of our friends in Pennsylvania and beyond a happy and prosperous 2016!