Published first on the Progress News, November 8, 2021

In the last column, I mentioned the creation of a regional coalition of redevelopment partners.  I threw out some soundbites like “innovation ecosystem” and “regional growth cluster,” and you may be thinking, “okay, but what does that all Mean?”

The idea of banding together for the common good has been around as long as there have been people.  It does certainly seem to be easier when done in very small groups rather than in larger coalitions, but sometimes, when the conditions are right, we do manage to come together across larger geographic boundaries.  This is one of those times.

Any of us living in northwestern Pennsylvania are intimately aware of the struggles our region has experienced over the last several decades.  It’s been nearly a century, actually, since the first oil-related companies started to pick up and move away.  As more and more of those large, anchor corporations left town, the resultant decline in our regional economy was brutal.  According to the most recent census, our towns experience poverty levels topping 25%, with a regional average of 14.28%. The hardest hit are mothers between 35 and 54, and their children; 22% of the population under 18 lives in poverty.  These numbers are hard enough to think about, and it’s even harder when you realize that they just keep getting worse, year after year.

Since the 1990s, there have been localized efforts to turn things around, to find new a new economic footing, but still, our population has continued to shrink and become ever poorer.  But, things are changing.  Times are changing.  Attitudes and opportunities are changing.  Suddenly – thanks in very large part to the pandemic – rural areas and their connection and importance to their surrounding metropolitan areas, is front of mind for policy-makers.  We have a chance to make a positive impact for our communities and our region, if we work together.

So, we are!  With the Oil Region Alliance acting as a central hub, we’ve formed the Northwestern Pennsylvania Regional Growth Cluster – a group of more than two dozen public, private, and non-profit partners across a diverse array of locations and industries – committed to a resilient and equitable future for our region.  While a flashier and more memorable name would be nice at some point, the work our group is doing is pretty darn exciting right now.  We’re coming together, connecting a number of complimentary projects in agriculture, manufacturing, and energy into a regional network of resources, knowledge, skill, and opportunity.  An Innovation Ecosystem.

Northwestern Pennsylvania is a huge area, covering more than 6000 square miles.  Nearly 900,000 people call this region home.  We’ve had it rough for a while, but we are strong and determined folk, unafraid to work hard to overcome the obstacles in our path.  With this new coalition, and the additional partners we are attracting day by day, we can see the vision of resilient industries providing high-quality, family-sustaining, purposeful employment and entrepreneurship opportunities coming to life.  The Oil Heritage Region changed the world once; let’s see what we can do this time around!

Cover Photo by Timo Wielink on Unsplash