Friday, February 1, 2019

Good Things are Happening

It’s February. It’s freezing. It’s still winter. It won’t be spring for six more weeks no matter what the ground hog says tomorrow. These are facts, folks. There are good things happening all over Schuylkill County. That’s a fact, too.

That’s right, I said it’s a fact, and it is. Working for the visitors’ bureau affords me a lot of opportunities to witness these good things happening all over Schuylkill County firsthand. Whether it’s Shenandoah partnering with Penn State for their innovation center project or Sweet Arrow Lake County Park making improvements on the pavilion project and boat docks, positive progress is all around us.

Schuylkill County’s Vision always has positive things going on around our community. They’ve nurtured the Schuylkill County Youth Summit that engages and empowers an incredible group of young people to make an ongoing impact in the county for seven years now. They’ve expanded Healthy Schuylkill Communities with programming in Mahanoy City, Shenandoah, and Schuylkill Haven that ranges from cooking classes, walking groups, indoor and outdoor yoga, to community gardens. And that’s just a tiny fraction of the positive contributions Schuylkill County’s Vision makes.

Another valuable organization investing in philanthropy in our community is the Schuylkill Area Community Foundation. They work to meet critical community needs and support local causes in the areas of arts and culture, education, environment, community, health and wellness, and human services. Their work continues to grow, benefitting citizens and organizations throughout our county.

The arts are growing and thriving all over Schuylkill County. We currently enjoy five organizations dedicated to providing our community with the full complement of benefits that the arts bestow. They include Walk In Art Center in Schuylkill Haven, Schuylkill County Council for the Arts in Pottsville, Tamaqua Community Art Center in Tamaqua, The Arts Barn in Orwigsburg, and Mud & Maker in Pottsville. Additionally, the Walk In Art Center is home to our partnered regional folk art center covering Schuylkill, Berks, and Carbon counties.

Community revitalization, albeit a slow process, is expanding throughout the county. In Pottsville, their continued progress project began with self-funding a consulting firm to provide a full-scale strategic revitalization plan with an action matrix that is currently being executed, a hotel study, two large, successful public events, new businesses opening, more exciting changes on the way, and most importantly, positive people getting involved and working together. Companies like Hydro in Cressona and Sara Lee in Highridge Industrial Park are building, expanding, and creating new jobs. A new hospital, with new jobs, is taking shape on route 61 in Orwigsburg thanks to collaboration between Geisinger and St. Luke’s. Comfort Inn & Suites in Barnesville won the Choice Hotel 2018 Platinum Award for operational excellence and superior customer service. Tamaqua is in its 4th year of successful implementation of the CRIZ program which is a city revitalization and improvement zone program designed to invest community tax dollars as financing to grow community businesses and stimulate economic development. Fifteen Fortune 500 companies now have facilities in the county. The Schuylkill County Airport continues to expand, investing in facility improvements that enable a larger variety of aircraft, both corporate and otherwise, to serve our community businesses and industries. It’s a fact, folks: we are experiencing growth, and good things are happening.

All around the county, exciting and innovative small businesses are cropping up like Pressed Coffee and Books in Pottsville and Alchemist’s Cove, a comic book and gaming store in Schuylkill Haven. Small businesses are so important to revitalization that Penn State University chose Schuylkill Haven as one of a few locations in the commonwealth to establish an Innovation Hub and Lion Launch, a community-based entrepreneurship program that provides funding and mentorship to start and grow businesses. In recent years we’ve experienced growth in nano breweries, distilleries, wineries, and restaurants in communities across the county. Famous Reading Outdoors, yet another newer business in Schuylkill County is making big investments in their outdoor recreation area including over 650 miles of mapped trails. Our regional neighbors, Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area made the news recently for undertaking a hotel study due to their incredible growth.

Outdoor recreation is a vibrant part of the quality of life we enjoy in Schuylkill County. In this category, good things are happening everywhere. I’ve already mentioned Famous Reading Outdoors’ expansions and improvements. The Schuylkill River Greenways Association is investing heavily in and working diligently to complete more areas of the Schuylkill River Trail in Schuylkill County and has made our county a top priority in their work. The Valley View Park continues to increase amenities and add events and programming to their schedule. In recent years, Hawk Mountain made improvements to trails that increased handicapped accessibility. They are also partnering with Ecology Project International to offer high school students a once-in-a-lifetime experience working with the National Park Service on ongoing research at Yellowstone. The Schuylkill Headwaters Association and their partners will be offering the Acts and Impacts watershed program this summer. Acts and Impacts is a week-long watershed expedition in the Schuylkill River watershed. The application for students can be found at with a deadline of March 22nd.

But wait, there’s more! This year is Yuengling Brewery’s 190th Anniversary! 190 years of brewing, outliving both prohibition and the demise of the regional brewery is quite a feat, and they’ve decided to celebrate with a summer concert celebration that will bring people and their money to our community to celebrate a core piece of our heritage. Muhammad Ali’s training camp, Fighter’s Heaven, in Deer Lake is being restored and can provide information and tours to students and teachers about the American boxer’s time here. Tamaqua invested in providing a recovery-friendly environment by opening Hope & Coffee, an organization that supports and normalizes recovery from addiction, provides job opportunities for people in recovery, as well as a recovery-positive environment for people to socialize. The Majestic Theater recently invested in building a new, bigger, and safer stage. The Henry Clay, one of the last anthracite locomotives in operation, whose home is Pioneer Tunnel and Coal Mine, underwent a full restoration last year and is in fine fettle and ready to serve for years to come. Lakewood Park is building their brand new Catalpa Grove event venue with a campground scheduled to follow. The Schuylkill County Fair continues to thrive and grow for 36 years and counting. At the visitors’ bureau we continue to invest in video projects and marketing plans designed to bring visitors and their dollars to Schuylkill County, thus growing tourism’s economic impact. The list goes on and on.

So the next time you’re out and about and someone says to you, “Nothing good ever happens here,” or “When is it going to get better around here?” you can give them the facts.

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