By John Susanin, Insight Magazine
As businesses continue to invest in downtown districts and people continue to move back to cities, the question becomes, does this trend trickle down to smaller cities in tertiary markets and what are they doing to create their own downtown renaissance? We spoke with business, government and economic development leaders from several smaller cities in the region to find out how they were faring in their efforts and planning for the future.
Larry Newman, the Executive Director of the Diamond City Partnership, which is the economic development organization for Wilkes-Barre’s CBD, compared 19th century Wilkes-Barre to a modern-day Houston but, instead of oil, it was coal that was the economic driver. With the decline in the coal industry, Wilkes-Barre recognized a need to reinvent its local economy. Luckily, the city is home to two universities, Wilkes University and Kings University, on opposite ends of the downtown area that have both become economic engines for the creation of a mixed-use environment. Newman reported there are now more than 11,000 people working in downtown Wilkes-Barre and, given the large number of college graduates, employers are finding a ready pool of talent there. “If you are a start-up business, you get personal attention here. You are not anonymous, you are not lost in the crowd.” With new housing being built in the CBD, long-term commitments to the downtown area from companies such as Guard Insurance and local tech company Pepper Jam, proximity to major metropolitan markets, and a low cost of living, Newman feels Wilkes-Barre is in the middle of a renaissance. “We have a collection of assets that allow residents to have a fantastic quality of life and people are starting to notice.”