A RECENT PRESS release’s headline shouted in all caps, “College town economics now at risk, says marketer.”

Now, the release was sent by a researcher and economic development marketing consultant from Illinois, but apparently he knows all about the economic situation in small college towns like Grove City and Slippery Rock.

John L. Gann Jr.--the consultant--says “high costs” and “electronic distance learning” (online classes) are to blame for undermining college towns’ “traditionally bulletproof economies,” as fewer students are attending four-year institutions in favor of cheaper options.

Phooey.

For one thing, we are fortunate to have two reputable institutions in our area that each provide a solid education at a competitive price, each offering unique and attractive bonuses that are found at few comparable schools. This means both schools continue to meet or exceed their enrollment expectations year to year.

For another, those who live in Grove City and Slippery Rock know their economies aren’t so much bulletproof as they are... well... rubber band-like. In tough times, the band may stretch to the limit; but it always snaps back into shape. Luckily, the local economy hasn’t snapped--though others clearly have, if this press release is any indication.

Unlike larger university towns--which tend to rely on university-based research parks to create jobs, according to Gann--Grove City and Slippery Rock already have in place the “economic diversification” plan Gann suggests their larger counterparts adopt: Rather than focusing on the college and university as a sole source of jobs, our communities have a good amount of white collar jobs, labor/industry jobs, and skilled professional jobs. We don’t just rely upon our colleges--which do in fact take up significant portions of our towns--to hold the communities together. And though some industries have folded locally in past years for a variety of reasons, others continue to crop up and keep the community afloat.

Gann further suggests college towns create an identity as “A Place to Visit” and “A Place to Live.”

Is he behind the curve... or are we ahead of it?

First there was the wave of local revitalizations, which continue to evolve and reach into new sections of town, adding to the beauty and functionality of our communities. All summer long after the college students have gone, Olde Town Grove City and Slippery Rock Development tout events and festivals held in their “main streets.” Further, the local chambers of commerce continually expend efforts to help new businesses take root and long-time businesses expand through various marketing and networking opportunities. Endless numbers of community groups continually advertise festivals, fairs, programs and events that draw people from miles away.

Bottom line: Are the college and university important to us? Yes. Do we expect they will draw people to our community--both as visitors and permanently through employment--who will then spend money in our communities? Yes. Do we rely on them for our every need? No. Should we? Absolutely not.

The colleges are good for our local economies; there’s no question about it. But despite how much good they do for our towns, we should not for one moment take for granted they will always be here to help anchor our communities. We should continually focus on bringing in new businesses, industries and potential employees in order to ensure a bright future for our area.

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