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County Hall Corner: Rethinking the Future

I taught an elective course on Future Studies at a business college in Europe. The students were quite interested in knowing what skills and possibilities in employment would be out there when they entered the working world. It is obviously a shaky science as we have no way of knowing the future and, at best, can postulate best-case, worst-case, and no-change outcomes.

To actually change the future requires risky initiatives.

Take Dan Campbell, the head coach for the Detroit Lions. If ever there was a hopeless NFL team, it was the Lions. Since that first Super Bowl game in 1967, the Lions have won a grand total of one playoff game. That is almost six decades of mediocracy. Despite having awesome players like Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson during those years, they still fell short. Matthew Stafford was their quarterback for nine years and then got traded to the San Francisco 49ers — and with him as quarterback, they won a Super Bowl!

Dan Campbell came along and declared that the Lions were not losers. He showed it by playing aggressive football, literally acting like a champion who should be feared. His first year, 2021, was not impressive: 3-13-1. The next year, they were 9-8. This year, they were 12-5 and won two playoff games to get to the conference title game.

Whatever the final outcome of the Detroit Lions this year, they have changed the status quo that history assigned to them. What caused that change was leadership that knew that change was possible but needed aggressive action to make it happen.

Lycoming County has been in a downward spiral for some time now due to a lack of jobs and a population that continues to get older. As a result, the Planning Department has conducted research that would indicate the coming decade will see a small but steady decline in population. Given this concern, the Lycoming County Commissioners made a bold move to use the federal ARPA funds to invest in areas that would have a generational impact. In short, how can we change the future?

We can start by reconsidering the scenario. The Planning Department studies were done before the current migration started to happen in places like California. For the first time since the Gold Rush of 1849, California has lost more residents than it gained. The same is happening in other states, such as New York and Illinois. People who have lived in cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, New York City, etc., are tired of the crime, the filth, the congestion, the prices — the everything. The tradeoff is not worth it, and they are looking for new locales.

I believe that we might be in the works right now for the Lycoming County area to grow. In reflecting on the current political environment in the United States today, I am wondering if we might be seeing a future migration toward us from those who are fed up with urban/suburban troubles.

In just the past few months, I have met two individuals and one couple that had been living in a major metropolitan area and have chosen to now live in Lycoming County. Yes, we are small by population, but actually, at 114,022, Lycoming County ranks 29th out of 67 counties in the state. Over half of the counties have less than 100,000 residents. So, by comparison, we are not so small after all.

The former Lycoming County Commissioners Board worked very hard to provide the infrastructure for future growth. Addressing the need for improvement in community services as well as work on the levee, the Route 15 corridor, and yes, even the property reassessment that is in the hopper will all provide an improved and important infrastructure base.

And we have a lot to offer. We are in the Pennsylvania Wilds and have some awesome scenic sights. We have two strong academic institutions in education — Penn College and Lycoming College. Both these schools have active sports departments and worthwhile arts events. Beyond these schools, we also have the Uptown Music Collective, the Community Arts Center, the Community Theater League, and others. For those who enjoy excellent theater, music, live entertainment, sports, nature, and such, it can be found here. And let’s not forget the two weeks in August when people from all over the world come here for the Little League World Series. I believe that there are many cities in our country that wish they had the potential that this area has going for us.

Yes, there is the possibility of a Field of Dreams wish that if we “build it and they will come,” — and they don’t come. But I believe that Franklin D. Roosevelt said it best when he stated about the future, “We are either living out the birth of a new vision or the death of an old one.”