by Howard J. Grossman, AICP
How do you investigate the obvious in the Pocono Northeast? Obviously, the region has undergone stress in the past, has developed responses to liabilities, has created a loss of assets that outweigh the liabilities, has expanded its economic base significantly, has personalities who have led the fight against recessions and economic difficulties and has created new initiatives that led to the “greatest regional economic comeback in the history of the United States.” The obvious is that this region will continue to be competitive with other regions of the nation, but to do so will require a rise of leadership, more fiscal stability, more attention to regional governance and creating more trust in American democracy and institutions that can help make the region a better geography than has been the case in the past. Think of what the Silicon Valley has meant to that part of the nation, and in many respects, nationally. About 35 years ago, a board member of the then Economic Development Council of Northeastern Pennsylvania (EDCNP), now called NEPA Alliance went to visit the Silicon Valley, and came back duly impressed, gave a talk at an EDCNP board meeting, and suggested that we try and reproduce what was happening there, here. While this never took place, Agnes McCartney, a former Carbon County Planning Commission Director and a supporter of the changes occurring in Jim Thorpe Borough, keyed up a drumbeat to try and achieve this adjustment. Think of what this would have accomplished today if her creativity and passion had been successful. Perhaps, the obvious was this could never have been accomplished, but the option to at least try and come close would have been a major success. And perhaps, it is not too late to have a mini Silicon Valley on the east coast — and right here inside the region.
Organizing a new focus on technology along the lines of what was called a satellite to Wall Street, or Wall Street West, seems to have disappeared, and the monies and billionaires who are west may not live in this region, but could be attracted to regional life. It is obvious the time to renew interest in Silicon Valley in this region and certainly move technology to a high priority beyond current levels.
Another obvious asset that has proven successful in this region is to expand enterprise development that includes financing of businesses, exporting, procurement, matching products with the ability to market them regionally across the world, and expand the support of existing businesses who have originally been an economic backbone to the regional economy. Back in the Clinton Administration, the enterprise program was suggested as a national policy, and even a letter from the president at the time in 1993 seemed to accept this idea, but it was never followed up. The Economic Development Administration (EDA) and the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), federal agencies being used by local development districts in the Commonwealth and elsewhere, are part of the means to focus on this economic process, but are being threatened by the current national administration. There is a need to retain successful programs and even make them stronger. This is an obvious strategy for the betterment of this region and others nationally. The state funds the enterprise development program as well, and deserves credit for doing this for decades.
A third obvious economic strategy is the need to think through how previous successful programs can be restored in an era of downsizing and even elimination of agencies. This includes regional energy centers that once existed in the state and in this region, municipal managers circuit riding several governments at a time which was quite successful by EDCNP in the 1970s and was around for several years, but ended when the federal program supporting it ended, and the role that Section 701 played as a HUD program for land use planning. These are just a few of past efforts that ended, but an obvious step would be to examine all past program federally and statewide to determine if they should eventually be restored.
Howard J. Grossman is the former executive director of EDCNP, now NEPA Alliance. Email him at GrossmanHJ@aol.com