Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Erie Economic Development

While I toil for the Tech Belt, I still harbor interest in the fate of my hometown of Erie, PA. My vision for that city's revitalization places tourism, recreation and conventions at the center. Lake Erie is clearly the main asset, but I also think the city could serve as the key liaison with the Toronto marketplace and Ontario's own Rust Belt. The picture I have in my head are the droves of Canadians who besiege Grove City (and Erie) looking for Christmas bargains. Something I haven't considered is the bucolic splendor of Northwestern PA:

At Hurry Hill, visitors can tour the sugarbush on foot or ride in hay wagons pulled by a tractor or teams of draft horses. At the sugarhouse, a warming tent has children's activities and a stand offering free maple hot chocolate and samples of maple products. Woods has also fashioned a new maple sugar museum, displaying antique sugaring equipment. Her demonstrations of the maple-sugaring process go on all day. She engages young and old, blending science with history and culture in an entertaining way that ensures visitors will leave knowing more about the sweet product.

"I love watching my kids learn and experience something new," said Pamela Brown, a teacher who moved to Corry, Pa., from Arizona several years ago with her husband and five children. "The boys also got to try drilling into a dead tree to see how to tap a maple."

Ray Sammartino of Erie, Pa., who was at Hurry Hill with his wife, Jackie, said, "The event . . . was like stepping back in time. It's a craft that has not changed, and I was amazed at how complex the process is."

I see the potential for a year-round industry and I'm familiar with the landscape described above. I have fond memories of swimming in Lake LeBeouf (many of my relatives lived in Waterford) and my early childhood was spent running around in a neighborhood in Edinboro. I also recall members of the Youngstown mafia summering in Erie, giving parts of downtown a resort-like feel.

Erie is one of the few places in Pennsylvania where I think locating a casino is a good idea. It helps to fill Erie's regional economic niche and to make the area a destination, putting it on the map of outsiders. I've read more than a few stories about people relocating to a favorite vacation spot. Erie could similarly benefit with a reorientation of the city core towards a tourist economy, specifically targetting Toronto, Pittsburgh, and DC. The DC-Erie connection (via Pittsburgh) is likely the most lucrative. If you didn't notice, the above article is in the Washington Post. The newspaper seems to think the recreational opportunity of sugaring would appeal to its readership.

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