Location: Pottstown, Pennsylvania
Sponsor: Pottstown Area Health and Wellness Foundation
Subject Area: Economic Development
Panel Chair: Mike Higbee, Thomas P. Miller and Associates – Indianapolis, IN
Background and Panel Assignment
Pottstown is a borough in southeast Pennsylvania, with a rich history in iron and steel. Despite being located in a prosperous county, Pottstown has struggled to keep pace as manufacturing jobs have fled the region, much like the rest of the country. Compared to its surrounding neighbors, Pottstown has the highest concentration of poverty and lowest educational attainment, and the highest rates of unemployment and adults who lack a regular source of health care. The housing stock is old and in need of repair and renovation. The proliferation of nonprofit organizations, including an elite school and hospital, inadvertently keep the tax base low, which has affected the financial health of the Borough, resulting in significant impacts on school quality.
A ULI Advisory Services panel was brought in to make recommendations to the Pottstown Area Health and Wellness Foundation and local stakeholders. The Panel came up with several community-minded economic development strategies for Pottstown’s future, including economic development projects, job-enabling plans, financing and housing strategies.
The panelists considered the following key questions:
- What catalytic, innovative economic projects can be brought to Pottstown that would jumpstart growth?
- What would a “job-enabling” plan for Pottstown look like?
- What are some financing and implementation strategies for success?
- What is a dynamic housing strategy for both current residents and the regional workforce?
Summary of Recommendations
The Panel focused on creating a cohesive, unified mission and vision for stakeholders and business leaders in Pottstown. Clear leaders would need to be identified, together with organizations tasked with specific assignments. Pottstown should also focus on improved data collection, communication and coordination among community leaders. The Panel conveyed to Pottstown that its greatest asset is its people: innate talent knows no demographic or zip code. The recommendations for Pottstown were concentrated around workforce training, economic development, housing and catalytic projects.
Specifically, the panel’s recommendations included:
- Create a unified vision for economic development, encompassing both community input and buy-in, and connect the vision with the regional market.
- Empower the institutional leadership of Pottstown to become more effectively organized.
- Define the Pottstown Area Industrial Development, Inc (PAID) as the primary point of contact for business retention, expansion, and recruitment efforts.
- Implement procedures to collect, process, and synthesize economic development data relating to demographic information, real estate, and project management in order to make effective decisions.
- Engage the business community through proactive outreach and peer-to-peer assistance and create a part-time ombudsman position to navigate the Borough’s approval and permitting process.
- Create a Housing Resource Center to showcase real estate opportunities.
- Improve the existing housing stock by promoting and incentivizing rehabilitation and renovation of existing properties and identifying lending partners or financing opportunities.
- Encourage new mixed-use residential development to attract new residents and increase density.
- Strengthen downtown Pottstown through strategic investments, including gateway signage and recreational sports tourism.
- Focus development on the Hess and Keystone Employment and Economic Plan (KEEP) sites and High Street, and create a connection from the downtown/High Street area to the Schuylkill River, which runs through the Borough.
- Become the “Borough of YES” through eliminating inefficiencies and inconsistencies from Borough plans and permitting process.
- Identify and diversify funding tools.
- Cultivate a community-wide comprehensive workforce initiative that recognizes Pottstown’s people as among its greatest assets.
- Engage in proactive marketing for Pottstown through defining a clear, concise, and unified message which aligns with Pottstown’s mission and economic development goals and communicating this message to a target market.