County's economic planners unveil 'Clarion 2030'

Clarion University Provost Pamela Gent outlines a new economic development initiative - "Clarion 2030" - at the Clarion County Economic Development Corp. annual luncheon meeting.

CLARION - Members of the Clarion County Economic Development Corp. Nov. 7 got a glimpse into the future when the "Clarion 2030" initiative was unveiled.

"One bad thing about economic development is that you aren't allowed to say anything," Clarion County Commissioner and CCEDC board member Ted Tharan said at the corporation's annual luncheon. "We know the exciting things that are coming, but we can't tell you.

"The time is now for our vision of 2030. Everything is in place for this to happen. I would like to see Clarion County double what is currently put into economic development. We have our finances in order at the county, and I think it is time to invest back into Clarion County."

CCEDC board member Melissa Bauer said visible change is being driven by automation.

"It is reshaping the future of work in America, and this transition will continue to disrupt not only here in Clarion but across the United States," Bauer said.

The transition, she said, will require collaboration among "all of the stakeholders."

The stakeholders, according to Bauer, are residents; businesses; the education system, which includes Clarion University, kindergarten through 12th grade and pre-K; and government leadership.

"During the next 10 years, it will be critical for all of the stakeholders to work together, pool resources and lead Clarion County into 2030 as a community that is vibrant and has the amenities required by our residents and workforce," she said.

Bauer said CCEDC must take the lead as the coordinating entity.

"CCEDC connects people and information," she said. "We help people collaborate with government agencies, grant programs and other initiatives to maximize the input.

"Businesses should want to locate here; not only because of our location, but because of our educated people."

Within Clarion's workforce, Bauer said, 32 percent or more of its residents hold a bachelor's degree, compared with the national average of 27 percent. In addition, she said, the distance from Clarion to major population centers by truck is about eight hours, or a day's drive by truck.

"One of the things we have missed out in recent years are the initiatives other groups get," she said. "In recent years this has changed. We now have new market tax credits available in our area."

Bauer said a seminar is being planned for January with U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-15) to explain the benefits of the program.

She pointed toward federal opportunity zones, which offer incentive to invest in distressed rural areas.

The county has two zones - Clarion Borough and Clarion Township.

"Clarion 2030 will require local groups to work together," Bauer said. "We will have a bigger impact if we all work as one. Our vision is that we want to make Clarion County a vibrant community by 2030 that attracts businesses, people and makes us a spot on the weather map every day."

Pamela Gent, Clarion University provost and a CCEDC board member, said there is a belief in the vision.

"We know we have to be a part of it. There are things working right now that will help us advance that vision," she said.

The university, Gent said, will be hiring a dean for career and workforce development at the Venango Campus instead of a director.

"That person will be responsible for developing the workforce in our region," Gent said. "We are committed to providing that help for people."

She said the university hopes to use the renovated Tippin Gymnasium to bring people to Clarion and to host conferences on the campus.

Gent said enrollment at the university and retention of students are both on the increase.

"We are still smaller than we were in the past, but that is OK. We are slowly, step by step, rebounding," she said. "We are looking forward to a very positive future."

CCEDC Executive Director Shannon Barrios agreed with Bauer that working in unison will be vital to making the vision a reality.

"We have laid the groundwork to do that successfully," she said.

In other business, re-elected to CCEDC offices were Jim Kifer, president; Mary Louise Logue, vice president; and Bauer, secretary and treasurer.