Members of the Mercer Area Boomtown group continue to make progress on setting goals for the region they believe could have a significant impact on jobs, quality of life, preservation of resources and more.
"Mercer is a great place to buy a home and raise a family," Shane Nugent, president of the Mercer Area Chamber of Commerce, told a group of 15 people on Thursday at the Mercer County Career Center, Coolspring Township.
By the end of the meeting - the group's fourth - the members agreed upon a vision that will serve as their main goal:
"We aspire to become a community that fosters quality family life for all ages that promotes job growth that retains our youth within a region that honors our historical background and agricultural traditions."
The Chamber has taken the lead on the "Boomtown" idea, which comes from Jack Schultz's book "Boomtown USA: The 7½ Keys to Big Success in Small Towns."
Greenville has had success with Boomtown, which their Chamber started four years ago, and those involved have helped Mercer get started on becoming the next Boomtown.
Much of Thursday's discussion focused on jobs and industry. Randy Seitz, president and chief executive officer of Penn Northwest Development Corp., said folks want job growth in Mercer County, but those employees can live anywhere - no matter where a new business might build - and the Mercer area is the right place for them to settle down.
"The impression would be 'this is where you come home,' " Nugent said.
But we can't turn down every idea just because it doesn't "fit the mold," Coolspring Township Supervisor Walter Darraugh said of how they should keep an open mind.
"We want to have a hand in controlled growth," Nugent said.
If a large industry wants to build in one of the townships surrounding Mercer, it wouldn't make sense to turn them away, said Cedric Butchy, president of Mercer school board.
An industry with high-paying jobs would be a great way to help keep the younger generation in the area; many of the current jobs are in the service sector, Nugent said, with several in the group noting those wages don't always support a family and a home.
The Boomtown group needs to be proactive, and that's where the individual committees come in, Seitz said. For example, the light industry/retail committee can identify sites in the Mercer area that are or aren't shovel-ready as a way to help potential developers and businesses.
Schools like the Career Center need to prepare more students to be ready to fill those potential jobs, said Lizette Olsen, executive director of AWARE.
Rachel Martin, administrative director of the Career Center, is interested in partnering with the Chamber for a job-shadowing program that would have local businesses "adopt" students, and their wages would be covered by a Career Center grant, said Dotty Pintar, executive director of the Mercer Chamber.
Another issue is the fact that people want to stay here because they love living here, but they can't find good-paying jobs equal to their skills and qualifications, Seitz said.
"The big problem here is underemployment," he said of how people with college degrees aren't finding local jobs in their field of study.
It's tough to get ahead of the curve, Darraugh said of how teaching jobs used to be plentiful, and now those positions are few and far between.
We also need to stress a four-year college degree isn't necessary to find a good job, Olsen said.
The Boomtown book points out that businesses in recent years have been moving from big cities to areas like Mercer for a better quality of life, Nugent said.
"We're in a good position," he said.
The next Boomtown meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. June 17, with the Mercer County Career Center, 776 Greenville Road, Coolspring Township, being the tentative location.
RSVP and questions, or to sign up for a committee: 724-662-4185 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Committees are: agriculture/residential real estate, beautification/art/historical/marketing, light industry/retail, quality of life and activities/welcome and government relations. A sixth committee, youth, is being formed by Martin and Michael Piddington, principal of Mercer Area Middle-High School.
Published May 10, 2014, in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201 A Erie St., Grove City.