City considers firm to assist with economic strategy

City officials are eyeing a comprehensive economic development strategy that may involve signing a contract with a Lancaster-based firm whose spokeswoman said has proven data-driven analysis working in other cities.

Council’s economic revitalization committee recently met with Naomi Young, of the Lancaster County Economic Development Company and executive director the Center for Regional Analysis, an arm of the company, on the proposed contract and city economic strategy.

Young outlined several steps as part of a broader economic development strategy that were consistent with the ongoing “strategic financial management plan” coordinated between the city administration, council and EConsult Solutions.

The financial details of the proposed contract were not disclosed in the meeting but are expected to be reviewed as part of an upcoming finance committee meeting.

“It is for expanding economic development opportunities in the city so we can develop an incentive plan and use that strategy to build on development,” Councilman David Banks, committee chairman, said.

Banks noted the Lancaster firm was selected after a review of several places with expertise to hone in on the city’s needs.

“It is a granular in its approach,” Young said of proven concepts and methodology. “It is a data-driven informed crafting of strategy,” she said.

It is unique in that it looks at the basic level of city structure from a parcel perspective and land use and re-use drives it, Young told the committee.

“The city’s ability to generate revenue and preserve or enhance its economic vitality needs to capitalize on existing land use,” Young said.

That has traditionally been a challenge because of the city’s fixed boundaries.

“There is limited opportunity for parcels that have not had any previous use on them, Young said. “It’s all about re-use,” she said.

As part of the project, a steering committee — not yet formed — would be considered a vital component of the plan. The committee will have the people and be given tools and resources to survey property available for redevelopment, use and re-use

To ensure transparency with the public, the steering committee would share information with key partners and the public and would identify, define and prioritize economic development projects based on the data.

By first taking an inventory of the land available, city officials and those on the committee can see where in the opportunity exists for reuse of these assets, according to Young.

The project also involves the committee members taking the collected data, including historical information, and going out into the community and engaging stakeholders, sharing their findings, Young said.

The purpose is to develop a final strategy with a vision that can be built on, she said.

Councilwoman Liz Miele said she felt it was important for the citizens and other stakeholders have such input into whatever plan is put into place, and that is a part of the project.

Young said there is a team that will be supporting her. The project team involves the Center for Regional Analysis, a research arm of the economic development company.

In addition, the company is partnering with Fourth Economy Consulting, a company based in Pittsburgh. That company has knowledge in community engagement and Iron Compass, which specializes in digital mapping.

“I am excited about this project,” Banks said. “It represents a sea change. It is incumbent upon the politicians to see we do our due diligence and make sure the sea change we are taking about comes to fruition,” he said.

Nicholas Grimes, city treasurer, noted that it is important for the public to realize this is not changing the work done by the Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce.

“They benefit and it will be part of the process,” he said. “We are not duplicating efforts.”

Previous economic development strategies and plans including those on redevelopment of East Third Street, Park Avenue neighborhoods, and I-Heart Williamsport and its engaged community surveys and information will be incorporated into the overall strategic plan, Banks said.


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