A special thank you goes out to The Derrick for allowing this story to be posted

Expert: Area economy in crisis
By JUDITH O. ETZEL

Special thanks to The Derrick for allowing this story to be posted

 


PHOTO BY JERRY SOWDEN -- A MASSACHUSETTS-BASED CONSULTANT BRIAN BOSWORTH TELLS REPRESENTATIVES FROM LOCAL ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AGENCIES DRAMATIC STEPS ARE NEEDED, AND HE OFFERS FIVE INITIATIVES FOR A REVIVAL.

Warning his listeners that "you have a crisis on your hands," a New England consultant outlined Wednesday how economic development agencies and others can re-energize this region's fortunes by taking some dramatic steps.

Brian Bosworth, president of Massachusetts-based FutureWorks, presented morsels of his much-ballyhooed study on the economic fortunes of eight northwestern Pennsylvania counties during an afternoon symposium Wednesday in Franklin. The study was launched in late spring and will be completed by mid-December.

News of his detailed study, one that proposes five initiatives aimed at revitalizing the region, comes two weeks after Congressman John Peterson, whose territory covers much of the area under scrutiny, blasted economic development agencies for failing to reverse or even stem the tide of economic decline here.

It was Peterson, a Pleasantville resident, who earlier needled the Northwest Pennsylvania Regional Planning and Development Commission, based in Oil City, to hire Bosworth to do the $95,000 study.

"I'm going to keep speaking out, stirring this up, because we are falling so far behind. It is an economic crisis that is deepening here," said Peterson during a break in Bosworth's presentation.

Eyeing the roomful of representatives from area economic development agencies, chambers of commerce and others, Peterson added, "Some of those people in that room aren't speaking to me because I spoke out. But it needs to be heard and something needs to be done."

Direct and unchallenged in his presentation, Bosworth minced no words in describing a doom-and-gloom scenario prevalent in northwestern Pennsylvania.

"Relative to the rest of the U.S., this region is losing wealth, good jobs and talented people and that pace is accelerating. The prospects do not look good...People are voting with their feet and they are leaving, especially bright young people.... Things do not look good and if it is not turned around, it will get a lost worse," Bosworth said.

He offered five initiatives, derived in part by conferring with a local steering committee over the past several months, that "go to the core of strengths and weaknesses of this region." They include:

?<E> Devise an aggressive marketing campaign based on specific advantages here

?<E> Redouble efforts to retain businesses, especially those in manufacturing, by helping them market internationally and embrace new technology

?<E> Establish a new multi-county technical college

?<E> Set up a regional authority to finance improvements in infrastructure (water systems to new telecommunication systems)

?<E> And, fund a "pot of money" to help spur entrepreneurs and new business.

"The goal is to build wealth in northwestern Pennsylvania by retaining, attracting and creating high value jobs and people in the region....Most of the new jobs being created here are in the low wage part of the service industries...(and) they don't support families," Bosworth said.

The five initiatives are recommendations only, Bosworth said. How to coordinate an eight-county cooperative system and how to pay for the suggested remedies will be decided, he said, "after you decide what it is you want to do."

Asked if he is optimistic the region "can pull this all off with good results," Bosworth said doing what the study recommends will reap significant economic rewards. A greater question is whether he was optimistic the region will carry the plan out, he suggested.

"Yes, I'm a lot more optimistic than I thought I would be. Step one is the acknowledgement you have a problem. There is no advantage to hiding any of this. You need to get it all out and then tell investors what you are going to do about it," Bosworth said.

The inclination to keep "bad news" quiet because you might not be able to convince new business to come here is misguided, he said.

"If they didn't do their homework, it would be stupid for investors to even consider coming here. There is nothing to hide here," Bosworth said.

Politics, too, has played a part in dealing with a depressed economy, he added.

"I have seen some elected officials step forward and acknowledge problems. I have seen some, but not all," Bosworth said. "Elected officials tend to hide economic problems so it is unusual for them to come forward and say 'we have no clothes on and we're in trouble.' But I am seeing more of it in this region and that is good."

Commenting on the national economic doldrums, Bosworth dismissed a notion it has exaggerated northwestern Pennsylvania's decline.

"Not really. You are losing wealth, good jobs, good people...If you don't turn this around, your gradual economic decline will accelerate," Bosworth said.

Acting collectively to solve economic problems doesn't necessarily mean "everything has to be done by marching in lockstep together," the consultant said. There will be many times each of the eight counties will have to handle an issue by itself.

"Regionalism is not the way out of your mess. You need to do these five things and it will work if you do it together. Collaboration is necessary....It is not because regional government is better but because you need to collaborate. Everyone doesn't have to do everything the same," Bosworth said.

Comments made by participants at Wednesday's symposium will be reviewed, he said. The steering committee will meet again in November to finalize the plan and discuss ways to implement it.