CLEARFIELD – More than 100 community leaders attended a luncheon panel discussion about “reinventing” Clearfield with representatives from the state Department of Community & Economic Development (DCED) on Wednesday at the Florian Banquet Hall.
DCED Secretary C. Alan Walker opened his remarks with a quote from Charles Darwin. “It’s not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who are most adaptable to change.” Community leaders, he said, must develop a strategic plan to “reinvent” Clearfield, which has been the task of Vision 2020.
Vision 2020, he said, is a group of community leaders who have developed a vision of Clearfield in the year 2020. When it formed, the group studied the educational and healthcare systems, downtown Clearfield, etc. The group, he said, identified ways to improve each aspect of the Clearfield community.
Walker pointed out that since then, the Clearfield YMCA and CNB Bank have expanded and their architecture suits the downtown. Also, he commended the Clearfield County Commissioners for relocating county jobs into downtown Clearfield.
Looking ahead, he said Clearfield has plans for a $6 million Riverfront Redevelopment Project to connect the Market and Nichols Street Bridges into a one-mile loop. Along with that, he said Clearfield Borough has plans for a $3 million streetscape project in downtown Clearfield.
However, Walker reminded stakeholders that the Shawville Power Plant is slated to close in April of 2015. The plant’s closure, he said, would result in the loss of 80 direct jobs, as well as hundreds of other jobs in the coal and trucking industries. As a result, Walker said community leaders must “reinvent” Clearfield and also “diversify” for survival.
According to him, Clearfield County still has many great assets, such as developable land off of Interstate 80; access to major roadways, including I-80 and U.S. Route 322; the R.J. Corman rail system; natural gas resources, a water supply, etc. The energy industry, he said, is a “game changer” and could be a “savior” for Pennsylvania and Clearfield County.
Ultimately, Walker said the Clearfield Borough and Lawrence Township communities must consider a merger into a third-class city. He noted that neither the borough nor the township has a substantial amount of debt and both would enter a merger on equal footing.
He said the merger of St. Marys Borough and Benzinger Township has served as a prime example of the benefits. St. Marys, he said, is a “neighbor” and willing to share information about its merger with borough and township officials in Clearfield. He said the DCED would also help facilitate a merger.
Later during the question-and-answer session, Clearfield Borough Councilman Tim Winters inquired about getting a ballot question to weigh the opinions of residents in both communities regarding the potential for a merger. Walker said it would be a possible first step, but officials would have to be careful in wording the ballot question.
When asked about the benefits of an Elm Street designation, Walker explained it helps the neighborhoods surrounding the downtown. He said it’s an opportunity to eliminate blight, which can become cancerous and hurt the appearance of a community. Carolyn Boser Newhouse, deputy secretary for DCED, said the Elm Street program enables communities to eliminate blight and fill vacancies with businesses.
This past year, Walker said Clearfield came very close to losing the Ritz Theater. Fortunately, he said it didn’t have to face that blight, while Chris Renaud, director of planning and development with the Clearfield Revitalization Corp., obtained grant funding and then offered a low-interest loan to the Ritz Theater.
Walker also mentioned communities with colleges and universities have been known to flourish. Bucknell, he said, was a prime example, as its students complete community projects. Newhouse pointed out Penn State’s entrepreneurial program places its students in the community and mentors them, which has greatly benefited the State College area.
During the question-and-answer session, Nancy Micks, the president and chief executive officer of the DuBois Area Chamber of Commerce, wanted feedback about areas Clearfield could improve upon or do better in. Walker believed there needed to be a more positive attitude when presenting the Clearfield community to prospective industries. Scott Dunkelberger, executive director of the Center for Business Financing, said companies look hard at communities and want to find places to suit their employees.
Dunkelberger said Clearfield has great assets and its leaders need to develop plans for recruiting industries into the area. Or, he said Clearfield can start growing its own industries, such as the city of Bethlehem in the eastern part of the state.
Walker said the large turnout of community leaders shows their interest in the Clearfield community. “It’s a good community with good people,” he said. “There’s something very special here, and it’s a community worth saving.”