Scranton eyes citywide strategic economic development plan

·4 min read

Jun. 24—SCRANTON — Mayor Paige Gebhardt Cognetti plans to devise a citywide approach to economic development.

Her administration recently issued public notices in The Times-Tribune of a request for proposals, called an RFP, from firms interested in creating a "strategic economic development plan." Six firms met Thursday's deadline to submit proposals.

While past efforts to spur economic development tended to focus on the downtown, the new initiative takes a broader view toward growing the city's entire economy, said Eileen Cipriani, executive director of the city's Office of Economic and Community Development.

"We want to be more holistic and tie the neighborhoods in," Cipriani said.

With a population of about 76,600, down from a peak of 143,400 nearly a century ago, the city has a tax base that likewise has declined. Meanwhile, current poverty and unemployment rates are significantly higher than state and national averages, the RFP says. A major impediment to the city's sustained economic growth has been "lack of a strategic plan that identifies and targets industries for local and regional investment," the RFP says.

Now, coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, the city recently received $68.7 million from the federal government's American Rescue Plan. The time is ripe for a strategic plan to look at how the city could best move forward, Cipriani said.

A steering committee that established the RFP framework includes Scranton School Board President Katie Gilmartin; Lackawanna College President Jill Murray, Ph.D.; former Scranton Tomorrow President Ken Okrepkie; Robert J. Sheridan, a member of the mayor's tax policy advisory working group; and city Business Administrator Larry West.

A strategic plan should develop short- and long-term goals that can be implemented; balance interests of longtime residents and stakeholders with emerging constituencies and leverage city assets and natural resources toward making Scranton a "destination city," the RFP says.

"We're talking about taking a look at the city as a whole," and creating a plan with specific actions, Okrepkie said.

The city still grapples with long-standing setbacks. Manufacturing and its employment once embedded in the city long ago has dried up or moved out to industrial parks, West said. When population peaked a century ago, bustling neighborhoods brimmed with mom-and-pop shops, and societal needs were different than today, as many people did not have cars, West said.

While downtown revival has been a focal point, "there are pockets throughout the city that are ripe for redevelopment," including Pine Brook and sections of West Side and Keyser Valley, to name a few, West said.

Factors that affect economic development also intersect, including business development, job creation, workforce attraction, housing stock and blight, quality-of-life issues and availability of amenities, Cipriani said.

"It all kind of goes together," Cipriani said. A strategic plan "might tell us we know we need to do these 10 things and what to do first."

The firm that's chosen would take into account, and build upon, prior city and regional studies done over the years. A new strategic plan would aim to capitalize on local assets, leverage private-sector involvement and establish a blueprint for community collaboration, to create an environment for economic prosperity in and around Scranton.

The six firms that submitted proposals and their costs include:

—Research Associates of New York City: $90,000.

—Delta Development Group of Camp Hill: $92,595.

—The Institute for Public Policy & Economic Development of Wilkes-Barre: $93,895.

—Fourth Economy of Pittsburgh: $98,300.

—Sagax Associates of Wilmington, Delaware: $98,750.

—RKG Associates of Alexandria, Virginia: $124,125, plus $14,800 for expenses.

The steering committee now will review the proposals toward selection of a firm.

A study period would start Aug. 1 and have a final report due Feb. 28.

Funding amounts and sources covering the cost of plan include:

—$50,000 from the Appalachian Regional Commission, an economic development agency that represents a partnership of federal, state and local governments in 13 states.

—$25,000 from the city Office of Economic and Community Development.

—$12,500 each from the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce and the Scranton Area Community Foundation.

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