Why Move Back to Meadville?

Small Town Marketing

“Why did you want to move back?” It’s the question I’m asked most often since returning to Crawford County this past summer. In one sense, I understand the nature of people’s curiosity. The area’s population has been in decline for over 60 years, the per-capita income is $10K below the state average, and 38% of residents collect social security benefits. Combined, these realities contribute to a more alarming fact that over half of the area population cannot be relied on to provide tax revenues necessary to sustain services and infrastructure. I’d hate to characterize the situation as bleak, but as one official remarked, his job was to ensure a slowly sinking ship, sank slower.

Contrast this with my personal situation, and to any reasonable person, moving back borders on nonsensical. I held an executive-level position at a successful, Indianapolis marketing agency, earning a comfortable salary with the potential for netting a million dollars through the company’s employee ownership structure. This is not to brag, but rather, to illustrate how my belief in a vision outweighed an easier road to financial security.

Never Coming Back

Twenty-six years ago, however, the only vision I had was of me stepping onto a Greyhound bus headed for Army basic training immediately following graduation. Coming back, in my mind, was not an option. In the time that followed, I benefited from my military service, paying for college and leaving as an Infantry captain. From here, I transitioned to the corporate world, earning a string of promotions to executive management at a publicly-traded, real estate company. Not bad for a small-town kid from Northwest Pennsylvania.

Life, however, would intervene, and two events would alter my chosen course. When the recession hit in 2008, I went from a respectable income to the humiliation of drawing unemployment with the next five years pounding me into submission as I searched for steady work to pay overdue bills and feed my family. Eventually, I regained my footing not long before the second event, the 2016 Presidential Election, the aftermath of which brought to the country’s attention the forgotten plight of the rural poor.

Conflicting Values

Together, these events would reshape my worldview and call into question my personal values. Despite finding a new career, I could still feel a twinge of that hopelessness I once felt relying on government assistance and the local food bank to get through another week. At the same time, in my hobby of studying Crawford County’s history, I recognized the area’s steady decline from industry epicenter, to just another rural community suffering from the same bleak circumstances that are plaguing so many others.

Knowing what it’s like to struggle and seeing that same struggle for many in the area forced the question: What can be done?

Opportunities for Success

Asking this led to a great deal of research, particularly concerning the solutions and possibilities that exist for Meadville and the surrounding areas. The good news is there are many opportunities we are ripe for that have already proved fruitful in other similar communities. Keep in mind, however, success in those towns was predicated on three key dynamics.

  1. Openness to New Ideas: Recent studies of rural communities by both Iowa State and Ohio State found that communities demonstrating openness to new and creative approaches not only thrived but were also better prepared to deal with unforeseen challenges in the future.
  2. Bottom-up Activism: Because of the lengthy amount of time and sourcing of funding required by local governments to enact many plans meant to remedy various issues, citizens, aided by social media, are shortcutting this process in prospering towns by forming groups and activating volunteers to address these issues quickly and more efficiently.
  3. Understanding of Trends: The third hallmark of successful rural communities is their attention to current and future trends particularly in the realm of technology and how these communities can harness these trends to their advantage.

When looking at the local area through the above lens, it’s encouraging to see the number of efforts, planned or in place, that directly correlate to these factors. At the same time, there is still room for clearer vision, increased awareness, and collective transparency, which would only serve to strengthen current and future initiatives intended to improve the area.

The Answer

So to answer the original question, why did I return to the area, I answer with, because I believe there is an abundance of opportunity here, because I believe there are many people who also see those opportunities, and because I believe there is a part for me to play in bringing these opportunities to fruition.

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What opportunities do you see for the area? Tell us in the comments. How strong is your community? Click on the banner to the right to take a short 2-minute survey to find out.

 

Stay tuned for future posts on the opportunities that exist for our community. Follow Bull Moose Marketing on Facebook for additional resources on small towns and marketing.

Photo credit: Author. Mural, located along Park Ave, & Chestnut St. in Meadville, by Berry Breene of Berry Paints.

 

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Ron Mattocks

Ron Mattocks was born and raised in Guys Mills, Pennsylvania. Following high school, he joined the Army to see the world before a career as a construction executive in Texas. Eventually, Ron switched to Internet marketing, consulting for companies such as GMC, ConAgra, Mattel, and others. During this time he also published the book, Sugar Milk: What One Dad Drinks When He Can’t Afford Vodka and began writing regularly for the Huffington Post, Disney’s Babble, and the TODAY Show. Currently, Ron is the co-owner of Historia Inspired, LLC, and President of Client Strategy at Bull Moose Progressive Marketing located in Meadville. He graduated from St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas with a degree in English Literature, and is a board member of both the Crawford County Historical Society and Northwest PA Railroad and Tooling Museum.


Comments (19)

  • Julia Luty Catalano

    Well said, Ron!
    Great to have you back in Crawford County.
    I also believe our area is ripe for future opportunities, improvement and growth.
    There are many people and organizations who feel the same.
    Please know that I will help however I can.
    Julia

    • Thanks Julia. Yes, much positive activity in the area and a great foundation to build on. There’s some new things coming up and would definitely like to have your input and involvement. Thank you!

  • I loved the article. I love living in Crawford County. My now adult children love it here, but finding a good job is their major complaint. I would like to see my young grandchildren growing up in this area too. Having raised my children in a different type of area and knowing what those areas are like now, the only good thing I can see is that jobs are better in that area. I would like to see more job opportunities in this area so my grandchildren can have the experience of growing up close to their grandparents and a future of having their families to continue living here. More job opportunities, I believe, would let that happen!

    • Thanks Roberta, very much agree with you. The good news is there is a lot of positive energy around 1. creating new job opportunities (my agency is hiring!), 2. bringing jobs to the areas, 3. growing successful area business who can add new jobs, and 4. making people in the area aware of job openings that they may not have realized exist. A primary focus for our company is to help area businesses to do any one of those 4 things through better marketing, and we’re thankful to already be working on exactly that with several area clients.

      Many don’t realize that rural communities are in prime position to grow their economies and retain their people. By coming together per the key dynamics I mentioned in the post, I believe your grandchildren will be able to enjoy living in their hometown as they grow up. Great comment! Thank you!

  • I spent but four years in Meadville in the early 80s as an Allegheny student, then did not return for 28 years until my daughter began her studies at Allegheny. During the intervening years, so much changed, but more importantly, so much was the same. I enjoyed my time in Meadville, and even through all these years living on the east end of Long Island, look for reasons to return. I understand your optimism and applaud your determination.

  • I love living in a small town. I grew up here. My family is here. My youngest (11) plans to make a life here for himself as well. The majority of people here are good people. The kind that pull over and ask if you need help when broken down on the road. I would love to see some businesses going in that have things to do. A trampoline park, a laser tag joint, etc.. if we are going to keep our children off the drugs that run rampant around here, we need things to keep them busy. This also provides a huge opportunity for more jobs as well. It warms my heart that people with your experience care and want to help. Please keep spreading the good word.

    • Thanks LeeAnn, great input, and I can tell you others are saying the same thing concerning stuff for children and families. I think you’ll start to see these types of businesses popping up. Thanks again.

  • Ron,
    I loved the article, this area has much potential and just needs a new generation of risk takers in my opinion. I am looking forward to working with you and your company to make it an even better area to work, live, and raise a family!

  • Elizabeth Weiss Ozorak

    I wish some of those in our government had to spend even one year living on unemployment. Our national politics would be very different. Good for you, being part of the change you wish to see.

    • Thanks Elizabeth. While there are those in government who do care, it seems they are ineffectual in driving the type of change that will impact those in need in rural areas. We have a great opportunity here to make that change happen for our community, and that is very exciting. Thanks again.

  • Some may not see this as important, but I’m proud of the number of public libraries serving Crawford County residents. (Though I’m concerned because government funding for libraries will be reduced in 2018.)
    Library patrons have access to not just books, but also Internet use, free movie “rentals,” children’s activities, various adult groups, a meeting room available without charge for nonprofit groups, and occasional classes on numerous topics. Interlibrary loans provides small town residents with access to books from across Pennsylvania. Plus, I’m sure many people go to the library because it’s a friendly place to be when they come down with “cabin fever” and want to get out of their home for a little while.
    In my humble opinion a good hometown needs a good public library. (I live in Cochranton.)

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