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2018 Economic Outlook Summit “Monroe County: Where are we going? How will we get there?”

09.12.2018

If there was one lesson to take away from the 2018 Economic Outlook Summit, it was that success is rooted in looking to the future and not dwelling on the past. The Summit’s sixth annual meeting, held at East Stroudsburg University on September 7th, focused on a theme of:

 

Monroe County: Where are we going? How will we get there?

 

The Scorecard

Before jumping into the future, though, attendees took a look at the past as described in the 2018 Monroe County Economic Scorecard, a synopsis and analysis of five year trends across six economic indicators – employment, earnings, business climate, healthcare, housing and education.

 

The scorecard compares results between Monroe, Carbon, Lackawanna, Lehigh, Northampton, Pike, Wayne and Luzerne Counties, utilizing statistics like average earnings per job, median house value and the number of general hospital beds per 1,000 people.

 

This year, Monroe County tied with Carbon County for sixth place in the summary rankings category, racking up 125 points. Northampton led the pack with a total of 152 points, and Luzerne rounded out the bunch with 113 points.

 

Marcia G. Welsh, Ph.D. and President of East Stroudsburg University,

said that there are some positive elements to be found in the details.


“At first glance, you may be disappointed that Monroe County has not moved up in rankings. But, in reality, Monroe County has done quite well compared to its neighbors. This past year, Monroe ranked first in total labor force growth, and was the only county to experience positive growth in this indicator."

 

"Monroe has also experienced significant increases in single family building permits per 1,000 people, tied with Pike County for second place,”

 

“This tells us that Monroe County is closing the gap, while continuing to increase its capacity as a leader in regional economic development, despite the differences in population and rural and urban designations.”


 

Overall, Monroe County’s total score decreased by only three points this year, whereas Carbon, Lackawanna, Luzerne and Lehigh Counties dropped between 10 and 18 points.

 

ESU Business and Economic Research Group member and Associate Professor of Economics and Finance Todd Behr took to the podium next to elaborate upon the scorecard.

 

“I think that some of the problems that we have today – which are really not that bad, per se – are just the result of remarkably fast population increases over time,” Behr said, pointing out that an increased population can potentially skew earnings figures, employment indicators and more.

 

One of the keys to growing businesses within the county is to hold onto employees, Behr said, and that challenge was up to businesses and local government to create an environment that is hospitable.

 

“Rezoning is an excellent idea, getting a handle of property taxes is an excellent idea, but you have to have some way to convince workers to stay here. You’re only going to do that if the job opportunities are growing, and you’re only going to generate job opportunities if you can grow businesses here as opposed to Lehigh, or have businesses move from Northampton up here. That is up to the people in this room,” Behr said.

 

Commissioners

County Commissioners John Moyer and John Christy discussed the responsibility of local government in promoting business development – a responsibility that is surprisingly absent from the County Code, Moyer said.

 

“There is no mandate that the County Commissioners facilitate economic development. However, it makes all the sense in the world that we are supportive of it,” he said.

 

“We don’t have large numbers of dollars that we can throw at economic projects, but when somebody comes to us with an idea, we can adopt it, we can support it. We, in fact, have supported three TIFs – tax increment financing districts – in my tenure, the most recent one being the Gateway project in Smithfield Township.”

 

Moyer also touched upon ongoing tax reassessments, explaining that while some businesses and residents will see an increase, the overall effect will make taxation more equitable for those who live and work in the county.

 

Working together, Moyer said, was the best strategy in order to make progress and encourage more development.

 

“Don’t sit back and figure somebody else is going to do it, whatever ‘it’ is. If you don’t get involved in economic development, it’s not going to happen. And it takes a cooperation of all entities to move us from the fifth, sixth or seventh position to the first, second or third,” he said.

 

Christy briefly reviewed a few projects the Commissioners are engaging in to facilitate growth, such as data collection with geographic information system mapping, a bike path for Route 611 and a prospective broadband pilot program that could help establish internet access throughout the county.

 

“What we’re looking to do is partner with another organization that has space on a tower to see if we can still do it. If you think about microwave technology, you can connect from point A to point B, just bouncing it further and further down,” Christy said.

 

“I personally think this could be an answer. You’d be able to bounce from East Stroudsburg all the way over to Carbon County. All we need is the towers.”

 

Strategic Doing Process

Ed Morrison, J.D., founder of the Strategic Doing Process and Director of the Purdue University Agile Strategy Lab, led the Summit attendees in an exercise intended to stimulate discussion on economic development through questioning what could be done, what should be done, what will be done, and what lies 30 days behind and ahead.

 

Tables were assigned sections – Workforce, Business Development, Infrastructure, Public Health, Collaboration and Housing – and tasked with finding a path to an idealized future for the county by running through the Strategic Doing Process.

 

The key to it all was focusing on that future, and not on the mistakes of the past.

 

“Think about your constituents, or think about your clients, as being your children or grandchildren. You have to design now the Monroe County that you want to hand over to your kids and your grandkids. That’s the focus of Strategic Doing.  It’s not trying to fix an old problem; it’s trying to design what’s next. In order to do that, we have to adopt some new approaches,” Morrison said.

 

Encouraging diversity

Following a brief networking break, guest speaker Dr. Randal Pinkett, co-founder, chair and CEO of BCT Partners, motivated the audience with a discussion on the essential mindsets necessary to keep the county competitive in the 21st century – promoting entrepreneurship, fostering innovation and attracting a diverse population.

 

Diversity, Pinkett said, is a key element to bring the county into the future and ensure a healthy climate for business development. Economic success, he emphasized, is built upon coming together to broaden perspectives, ideas and strategies.

 

“We need to diversify the pipeline of entrepreneurs here in Monroe County. From my conversations with you and your colleagues, that’s what I’ve learned. If we want to be competitive, we must diversify who is at the decision-making tables in Monroe County. We have to diversify the faculty and staff of our colleges and our universities if we want to be competitive in Monroe County. All of that begins with you, each of you, individually. That’s where it begins,” Pinkett said.

 

Closing out the Summit, Welsh spoke on utilizing some of the suggestions from the Strategic Doing Exercise and coming together to develop the future of business development in the county.

 

“We all have resources, and if we all talked about it and shared them and put them into action, we could solve our problems. But, we can’t solve our problems when we don’t talk to one another, when we think education is over here, business is over there. We all have to be at the same table coming up with solutions for the future,” she said.

 

“I look forward to seeing what we can do between now and the next Summit.”


By Brian Myszkowski / Pocono Record Writer

http://www.poconorecord.com/news/20180907/esu-holds-economic-summit



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