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by Howard J. Grossman, AICP

A recent event emphasized the role that many factors play in making a community grow and prosper. It was a luncheon of the Pennsylvania Economy League held at the Westmoreland Club and featured speaker Bill Fontana, executive director of the Pennsylvania Downtown Center.

He outlined his view of trade areas in the Commonwealth as well as significant trade areas outside the boundaries of the state which impact Pennsylvania. The latter include New York-New Jersey, Cleveland, Buffalo and Washington-Baltimore. He went on to point out the work of author Richard Florida and such books that define the role of the creative class and the expressive nature of successful geographic areas that are growing. Florida actually visited the greater Wilkes-Barre area at least twenty years ago, and probably looked at the Scranton area as well.

Since that time very little was accomplished to implement his thoughts, but perhaps changes have now occurred to warrant optimism about the regional future in urban portion of the region. Naturally, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh metropolitan areas are trading locations in this state. The question is, will other urban enters become major trading areas over the net 20-25 years?

Fontana believes locations flourish through domain activities, intellectual receptive venues, ethnic diversity and political power. He believes there needs to be an “organization of places.” The definition of places includes older core counties, first-ring suburbs, edge cities and competition for development.

Is this region ready for the type of functioning that other community areas have seen occur in their locations? It is the same approach that Florida has advocated, and he is now at the University of Toronto and assisting Canadian communities areas.

Smart growth is being suggested as a sustainable activity that should be implemented across the Pocono-Northeast, something that has been mentioned in prior years, yet has not been fully established across regional lines. There is a need to think of regional economic regions and the interdependence of communities through regional governance and the possible examination of traditional economies versus knowledge-based economies. The latter has taken hold of other areas of the nation, and needs to be sharpened inside this region. Clustering includes attracting knowledge-based industries and businesses, growing exiting business to become knowledge-based and enhancing start ups in the same field. Quality of life becomes critical along with measuring the collective impact of all entities inside the region. Lifestyles need to be encouraged to look at regional settings in coming years.

Regional citizens need to think of themselves as living inside the Pocono-Northeast as well as a particular community or county. There are hundreds of places that are called home, however, the larger geography or region is of particular consequence and that becomes part of a marketing tool such as what Penns Northeast does. The economic region does not stop a jurisdictional boundary lines. Proximity to natural resources, ability to produce large volumes of product, increasing merchandising, finding appropriate labor supply that is trained, improving the job base, and other attributes are essential.

Producing a regional vision of a better future is critical. Florida and others have suggested that the following be part of a new knowledge based economy.

■ Climate that is conducive to quality of life

■ Housing availability

■ Housing costs

■ Health care

■ Ratings of public schools

■ Cultural events and entities

■ Colleges and universities

■ Low crime rate

■ Supportive social entities

■ Technology development

While this is not a complete list, it represents part of what will make a knowledge-based economy be the next round of economic development, important to having this region highly competitive in the global economy of today and tomorrow. The prospects of this region are highly dependent upon a combination of enhancing the quality of life, adding tools that help extend interest in a knowledge based economy, perhaps extending regional marketing to other counties and outside the traditional definition of what this region constitutes, and a host of other elements that are yet to be defined.

Here are a few ideas: to achieve the knowledge-based goal.

■ Examine what the region has already that can be shaped for showcasing its assets and benefits to attracting companies to locate and to expand existing industries that have located here in the past.

■ Developing a regional task force on knowledge-based industries and use this identity to organize a special website on this topic.

■ Have a collaborative of existing entities meet periodically to generate approaches to the topic and develop recommendations that will help build the infrastructure necessary for growth.

■ Perhaps bring Richard Florida back to the region to discuss the latest thinking regarding this topic.

■ Encourage Bill Fontana to make his story known across the region by holding similar meetings and discussions in coming months.

■ The Pennsylvania Economy League Central Division should be commended for starting this dialogue and advancing this economic concept. Their role as a good government organizations needs to be well publicized across their service region.

There is amazing talent inside the commonwealth, and those who advocate positive change and new economic directions should be brought together, at least annually, and a permanent commission be created, or use the Pennsylvania State Planning Board for this purpose, holding meetings in various regions of the Commonwealth.