Brighter Futures for Small PA Towns
August 26, 2020
Not far from the Ohio line in northwestern Pennsylvania sits the town of Sharon.
Fifty years ago, Sharon was an industrial powerhouse, home to major producers of steel, electrical equipment, and a many other products. It was the sort of place—an hour and a half from the nearest major city and far removed from the network of universities and medical facilities that have driven growth elsewhere—that the collapse of manufacturing in the early eighties should have left in rubble.
A walk along Main Street in Sharon makes it clear that that never really happened, and suggests a real comeback in the decades since then.
Jim Landino, an Ohio native who built an electrical transformer business in the region, sold it, and started another some years later, has emerged as one of Sharon’s most enthusiastic boosters.
His explanation for Sharon’s resilience steps outside the usual categories of economic development.
“The first step, obviously, is to leave aside the prophecies of doom and concentrate on the task at hand—but sustaining a community depends at least as much on the quality of life as it does on the availability of jobs. Parks, gyms, and churches matter to people, too, as they decide where to live their lives.
“Part of the strength of Sharon laid in the companies and, more importantly, the people who never left—they were building blocks for what came later.”
He emphasized as well the importance of private-sector leadership, not based on clichés about the efficiency of government but on the cold reality that the nuts-and-bolts development of any venture can only come from those there on the ground floor.
Landino is unmistakably optimistic about Sharon’s future, pointing to a still-undeveloped riverfront along the Shenango River and a residential real estate boom that is already underway in downtown Sharon to make a case that goes beyond the usual civic boosterism.
Casual conversations in the street on a sunny weekend afternoon bear that out. Instead of grumbling about how things fell apart after the mills closed, a visitor’s attention is directed to newly refurbished buildings just down the street or a small manufacturer a few miles outside of town that recently hired twenty people.
Taken together, these hint at a brighter future for places like the Shenango Valley and a sense of hope that seems certain to ripple on any number of fronts, including November’s election.