What key community assets did you identify on the site visit?
Connellsville was full of natural assets. The Greater Allegheny Passage trail ran right through the city and was largely viewed as the towns most valuable asset. But the town was also full of beautiful greenspace and the Youghiogheny River to complete it. The visitors center along the trail and the Comfort in are newer additions to the towns asset list but still important in themselves.
The trail was what most people said was the towns biggest asset but according to Mike and Dan, prior to Covid citizens rarely used it. Before the pandemic the trail was mostly used by cyclists. So making that transition from rarely used by residents to more commonly used by them is good thing. It shows that people appreciate their community and want to see its valuable assets used for good.
The town also had great community assets like the Carnegie Library, the Connellsville Canteen, and the Ministry Services. The Ministry provides a much needed charity service to members of the community who need help. Working as a food bank, the Ministry is able to provide food and meals to those who may not always have enough to eat. They also provide clothes, household items, baby / kid items, books, and kitchen and household items for free or low cost. The Carnegie Library is free to the public and provide educational service free of charge. Additional assets such as the small family own shops added to the small town, close knit feel that is so desired by the residents.
The Canteen was both a cafe and history museum, something now commonly seen. This unique aspect of the Canteen makes it a great asset for the community can could draw in a bigger crowd if advertised right. In the Canteen was a large model train display, which is also a very niche but unique feature. This could also serve as a key asset to the community among the right crowd.
The towns arts and craft shop was also a fun assets for the community. It provides a local place to make, sell, and appreciate works of art. It helps support local artists and provides an important and niche store.
The Comfort Inn is a great asset to the community as it can provide a place for travelers to stay. If they stay they are more likely to explore the town, bringing in revenue. And although still unbuilt, a brewery will be opening across the street from the Inn. The brewery is already an important asset to the town since it is exactly what younger generation are into. A brewery in a quaint town could easily become a tourist location for people in the surrounding area as well as the GAP trail cyclists.
What additional work does the team need to accomplish to identify additional county-wide assets?
The team needs to expand its focus outside of Connellsville in to the greater Fayette county region. Interviewing a large crowd in Uniontown and smaller crowds in towns like Hiller and Masontown could provide a wider perspective to what the area’s residents feel are the most important assets to their community.
I also feel that talking to tourist may provide insight on what someone outside the community might think is their greatest assets.Hearing an outside perspective is invaluable. Speaking to the younger citizens of Connellsville may reveal assets to us that we may have never come across online or through older generations.
Google maps can also be utilized to identify large assets like forests, parks, monuments, etc. Maps can also be used to easily find schools, libraries, and hospitals, all important assets to any community. researching historical events and the history of the area will provide context to assets.
Researching existing databases and comparing assets will help us find ones we may have looked over. Researching annual events and festivals will provide cultural assets that may not be around all year, but are still an ingrained into the community.
What surprised you about the community that you learned on the site visit?
What surprised me the most about Connellsville is the warm welcome we received on our visit. Everyone we talked to seem happy we were there and were open to giving as much feedback as possible. And although not necessarily part of the visit, my group and I were extremely surprised with the Comprehensive Plan for Connellsville. It contained everything we feel a town needed to be successful and resilient. The adding of bike lanes purposed along roads and the future rebuild of Crawford Avenue Bridge was very modern and a great future addition to the town. I was also pleasantly surprised at the Glass Factory and the history it held. The Glass Factory being family owned stayed true to the towns ambiance and the vibe they want to give off.
What links can you make between the course readings and what you experienced from the site visit?
Based on this limited experience in the community, what are your initial ideas to spur economic development in Fayette County?
The county needs jobs for what we consider unskilled labor. One resident of Connellsville noted there are only two factory type jobs in the town. the Glass factory and the railyard. Other jobs in the town were limited to family own shopped that do not need or cannot afford outside help. Office jobs and industries that require a degree are more common in Uniontown, they are hardly available to those outside the city. while there is some economic growth the with start of large companies such as Walmart and Dunkin moving in, it’s simply not enough to support the entire community.
Additionally, the community needs more nightlife, bars and restaurants, etc to make an atmosphere more friendly to younger (20s-30s) audience. The community could also benefit from additional home buyer programs, particularly for new home buyers. Fayette county, specifically in Connesville, has a low cost of living and affordable house prices.
Further advertising their available commercial infrastructures and available land to business and entrepreneurs would continue economic growth. The county currently has numerous programs to provide loans and grants to current and new businesses, the growth is not even across towns. Connellsville has seen a lot of new growth according to our stakeholder, but as of right now we do not have the data need to determine if all are economically viable.
Finding more concrete data on the new business that have been opening in the county, and seeing how many are still open and how long they stayed open for is needed for answers to question on their economic status.
What do you believe the next steps for the project based on the information gathered during the site visit?
The next step for the project would be brainstorming new ideas to bring in business and new residents. Potentially interviewing and surveying residents of the surrounding counties on their why they would or would not move to Fayette county could provide much needed feedback.
Expanding the focus outside Connellsville in needed. Partnering with Uniontown but also the smaller towns of the region is the next step. Connellsville seems to be doing alright, their Comprehensive Plan was solid and well researched but smaller towns may not have the luxury of such a plan.
Finding more organisations to partner with as well so we can reach a wider audience. Partnering with a voter awareness and youth centered program in the region will greatly broaden our targeted audience. Brining in younger people into government positions and commerce board will help change the paradigm of the region.