By Howard Grossman
The Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS), is the latest regional report performed by the NEPA Alliance in its capacity as an economic development district under the federal Economic Development Administration. The CEDS is prepared every five years. This process has helped reveal several economic strategies that include the following six:
• Retain and expand existing businesses;
• Attract new businesses;
• Encourage entrepreneurial activity and innovation;
• Link workforce with current and future job opportunities;
• Build on energy, environmental and agricultural opportunities; and
• Inventory and strengthen regional infrastructure.
To achieve these goals, collaboration is strongly recommended with other economic and small business development agencies in the region. Here are some of the issues discussed.
• Outmigration of younger population — this demonstrates that between April 1, 2010 and July 1, 2015, the seven county region declined by 14,466 people or 1.6 percent. All counties showed some decrease. The document suggests a brain drain in the age group 25-64, but entities exist to help entice young people to stay. These include POWER which is Professionals Organized and Working to Enrich the Region.
• Aging infrastructure including 662 deficient bridges in the region, but improvements to major interstates have been occurring such as the Safe 80 Task Force and actions to improve I-81. Water and septic systems need work and the housing stock is one of the oldest in the commonwealth.
• Shortage of skilled technical labor. This problem is being addressed by workforce investment boards, colleges, universities and local technical schools.
• Low educational attainment levels. There are 18 colleges and universities in the region, many public school districts, many private schools and seven vocational technical schools.
• Lack of terminal degree programs. The region does not have a critical mass of terminal degree programs in fields such as engineering, sciences and technology. Some efforts help, including The Commonwealth Medical College and doctoral degrees programs at Misericordia, University of Scranton, and an agreement at East Stroudsburg University with Indiana University of Pennsylvania toward an Ed.D degree.
• Lack of entrepreneurial culture. Continued expansion of entrepreneurship in niche markets is needed, according to the report.
• Industry Clusters. Targeted industry clusters. include advanced materials and diversified manufacturing, agriculture and food production, building and construction, business and financial services, ducation, information and communication services, life sciences, logistics and transportation and lumber, wood, and paper. Some of these are found in the region and have positive location quotients. They represent targets for recruitment.
The report outlines a SWOT analysis of the region, looking at strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. This lead toward the six goals mentioned previously and a strategy that is designed to enhance the regional economy. There were many strengths and weaknesses and in the opportunities were energy, health care, tourism, transportation, available workforce, educational institutions, cluster development, buying local, reshoring of jobs, municipal/regional cooperation, proximity to major metropolitan areas and Tobyhanna Army Depot/defense related industries. Among the threats were the Defense Department budget, low wages, economic contraction, population loss, taking funds out of businesses, federal spending decreasing, youth migrating out of the region and more. An issue is perception of the region.
Of the six goals based upon SWOT, encouraging entrepreneurial activity is key and included five strategies as follows:
• Assist aspiring entrepreneurs by increasing their awareness about regional and state resources;
• Promote financing programs that are geared towards entrepreneurs;
• Encourage aspiring entrepreneurs to enter annual business plan competitions;
• Explore the possibility of having student-run entrepreneurial residential program at colleges; and
• Market business incubators that provide kitchen space to producers of agricultural products who can add value.
Howard J. Grossman is the former executive director of EDCNP, now NEPA Alliance. Email him at GrossmanHJ@aol.com