Three Ways Scranton Is Rebuilding Its Legacy

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This is guest post by Bill Eller, vice president, business development at HomeServe.

Scranton, Pennsylvania is known as “the Electric City,” and in recent years, it has become a poster child for legacy cities and efforts of revitalization. Facing decline since its height in the 1950s, Scranton has recently become home to a vibrant arts scene and a walkable downtown that boasts farmers’ markets, industrial buildings turned trendy lofts, special events and festivals. This is a city that reclaimed its history as an industrial center while honoring its diverse heritage in a few key ways.

Build on What You Were Built On

Scranton, named for the brothers who brought the first iron furnaces to what had been a small farm community, has roots as a powerhouse of industry, producing coal, iron, steel, locomotives and records.

The steel and locomotive industries demanded coal, and to feed that demand, coal miners began mining the Northern Anthracite Coal Field, and outside demand for coal led to more railroad lines in turn. The demand for labor across industry resulted in a cultural melting pot – early Irish and Welsh immigrants were followed by Italian and Eastern European, all of whom brought their own cultural, culinary and religious traditions.

Scranton continues to be a hub for transportation – it is located at the convergence of Interstates 81, 84, 380 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Northeast Extension.

“This confluence has created significant regional growth in the logistics industry, which has benefitted the employment picture in the City and entire area,” David Bulzoni, City of Scranton Business Administrator, said. “The City was on the verge of bankruptcy in 2014 and has now finished the past two years with stable cash surpluses.”

Lean on Community Education and Access

Although Scranton had seen industrial success through to the 1950s, a waning demand for coal meant the beginning of a decline for the city. What followed was a devastating loss in population and businesses.

With both business owners and homeowners migrating to the suburbs, a concentrated effort across public, private and non-profit groups was required to revitalize the city. Collaboration with secondary educational and medical facilities has seen a growth in “Eds and Meds” that has helped restore the city core. Many schools are repurposing older, vacant buildings or opening up facilities to the community.

“Scranton is home to a world-class university, the University of Scranton, as well as the Commonwealth Medical College, Marywood University, Lackawanna College, Johnson College and the Scranton branch of the Luzerne County Community College,” Bulzoni said. “The ‘meds’ side of the ‘eds and meds’ growth is the expansion of the Scranton campus of the Geisinger Health system, and the multi-hospital Commonwealth Health system.”

Plan and Partner Proactively

With an older city comes some unique challenges, including aging infrastructure and homes with older plumbing. In a proactive move, the city partnered with the NLC Service Line Warranty Program to provide education on homeowner service line responsibilities and optional emergency home repair plans to residents.

“There are a lot of older homes,” Bulzoni said. “We have an older population, as well.”

Bulzoni noted partnering with the program was a proactive way to address one of the myriad of issues that a city of Scranton’s size faces. The program has had very few hiccups, with the added bonus of not requiring much attention from the city, allowing local leaders to focus on other ways to continue community growth.

“We also use the commission we receive from the program to fund our Scranton Homeowner Assistance program,” he said. “It is a grant program managed by the nonprofit Neighborworks and has enabled the City to assist homeowners with capital improvements to their residences. The program has been very well received.”

As the National League of Cities gives cities, towns and villages across the country some much-deserved appreciation with its on-going Love My City campaign, Scranton residents and leaders are showing their love for their city with determination and dedication to their community. The “Electric City” is a place where history and innovation are both valued. Times may have changed, but Scranton’s values have not.

The NLC Service Line Warranty Program partners with municipalities to educate residents about their responsibility for private-side water and sewer infrastructure and offer affordable repair plans for failing pipes. For more information, visit www.utilitysp.net.

bill eller headshotAbout the author: Bill Eller currently serves as Vice President, Business Development at HomeServe. He is responsible for working with municipalities to educate and develop the best program options for their residents.