Just as the Shenango Valley had to repurpose its economy after the death of the mills in the 1980s, Hermitage will need to create a new economic focus as major, national retail chains close their doors in the face of the trend toward online shopping.
With Sears, Macy’s and Kmart, among other stores, having flown the coop that is Hermitage’s commercial corridor, there is less traffic coming into the city, said George Kraynak, owner of Kraynak’s and a member of the Hermitage Community and Economic Development Commission.
Fewer shoppers who used to come from New Castle, Greenville and Slippery Rock are making the trip, said Kraynak, speaking April 5 at a joint meeting of the HCEDC and the Hermitage Planning Commission which was called to give input on the Hermitage Comprehensive Plan update.
“We can’t look at brick and mortar as a savior today,” he said.
It’s not realistic to expect big retailers to locate in Hermitage when others are leaving, said Rex Knisley, HCEDC chairman and a senior vice president and regional sales manager First National Bank.
“My focus would be in what is going at this point” – light manufacturing, Knisley said.
City officials already are looking at ways to attract more light and medium industry, said Assistant City Manager Gary Gulla. As there is little available land zoned for industry, officials are considering ways to tweak the zoning ordinance so non-intrusive industries can locate in commercial areas, he said.
There still is a high resident interest in national retail establishments and restaurants, said Commissioner Michael Muha. As he was campaigning, people wanted to know why Hermitage can’t attract something like a Target or an Olive Garden, he said.
Residents are more interested in shopping than taxes, and they want to shop here, Muha said.
That’s a question officials hope Jerry Paytas can give some insight to. Paytas, vice president of Fourth Economy, Pittsburgh, has been hired to write the economic development piece of the comp plan. He will look at residential and industrial trends, existing locations such as the Shenango Valley Mall and LindenPointe Innovative Business Campus and try to answer questions such as why won’t Target come here and is there something the city could do to attract the next Target.
City officials have set neighborhoods and recreation as priorities, but maybe it’s time to set new priorities and commit time and effort elsewhere, City Manager Gary Hinkson said.
City Commissioner William McConnell said there have been big-box stores that have looked at properties in the city. He said he would like city officials to go after these firms.
HCEDC member Angela Palumbo said the city is “poised” to attract something like a Bass Pro Shops with its existing amenities and market characteristics. Maybe officials need to look to more innovative tools to attract them. She noted Kohl’s came to town after city commissioners agreed to a tax-incremental financing plan, which allows the diversion of new property taxes to pay for public improvements, such as roads and storm water drainage.
Although “the politics that came into play was terrible” for the Kohl’s TIF, it resulted in the development of a vacant property in the center of town, Palumbo said.
“That was a good thing,” she said.
It would be a good thing if the city had more to offer young adults and families, said Meg Grober, a member of the HCEDC and the comp plan steering committee.
“Fun is the big thing that we’re missing,” she said.
Young families want to play and eat, she said. “I think food is such an attraction.”
There are no nightclubs in town, meaning young adults are going elsewhere for entertainment, Grober said.
Young people think differently than the generation in charge of the city’s purse strings today, she said, and it’s time to try to move the thinking of government to this younger crowd.
“I think we need to create a social gathering space,” she said.
Knisely added that people who work want to be able to walk to lunch and other places they might need to go instead of having to drive.
Don Owrey, president of UPMC Horizon and UPMC Horizon, which hosted the meeting, said a community plays a “key part in the recruiting process.” People thinking of moving here want the same things as those who already are here, things such as affordable and safe housing, good schools, and transportation, he said.
He added that the city is lacking trendy kinds of stores, something Grober agreed with. Owrey, who lives in New Castle, noted that he has to leave the area to buy running shoes and athletic apparel.
“I’m feeding their economy instead of my own,” he said.
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