Johnstown Bets on Quality of Life Initiatives to Drive Economic Development

Aug 6, 2014


The Conrad: The flatiron Conrad building sits on the edge of the Stonycreek River in Johnstown, Pa. The building has become a symbol of the city's blight and economic troubles.
Credit Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

When the lush, green curves of Route 403 give way to the expansive brick buildings of Johnstown's steel mills, innovative economic development is not the first thing that comes to mind. The city's landscape is industrial, full of cement, and accented generously with blight. Its population sits at about 20,000, down from a high of around 70,000. The last time it was this low was in 1890, and people continue to leave.

Jeremy Kosmac left a decade ago to pursue a career in law enforcement. "Most people that I went to school with who pursued higher education like myself, went to college, and once they finished college sought opportunities elsewhere," said Kosmac, who now lives in Pittsburgh. "Absent a large blue-collar manufacturing type job, I don't know what's going to revitalize or stimulate the economy there," he said.

Kosmac's is a common sentiment. Economic development in communities large and small has often focused on stack chasing, the practice of trying to attract large companies to town. Yet the city's master plan says that going after old-style manufacturing jobs is not the way forward.

Read a full version of this report at the website of Keystone Crossroads, a new statewide public media initiative reporting on the challenges facing Pennsylvania's cities.