“The ability to physically connect areas like Johnstown to State College, Washington, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh will help grow the regional economy, whether that’s a combination of public and private transit, rapid transit or companies like Lyft and Uber,” he said. “Rural areas need to figure out how to connect to the prosperity and become part of the supply chain for these larger areas.”
But virtual connectivity to stoke job growth is key as well, he added.
“If we want to have remote jobs and commuter jobs we need to make sure everyone has access to broadband and that cell towers are nearby.” That connectivity will be crucial if areas like Johnstown, which has several thousand college students, are going to have any hope of retaining that talent.
“We want them to stay here and grow their businesses here, but they need to be able to make connections.”
Over 125 business and civic leaders from across the Commonwealth attended the convening, and many agreed that outdated ways of doing business are preventing the region from moving forward.
David Nevins, CEO of Zoom Cube, said there is great potential for blockchain technology to revolutionize sectors besides bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.
“When you can see the data in context, you can make actionable business decisions,” Nevins said. “But right now, it’s too obscure, it needs to be made visible.”
Nevins acknowledged that changing company cultures so that they move away from traditional record-keeping to blockchain-based systems was no easy task. But he has been working with Alpha Technologies in Wilmington, Del. to develop what are known as cadastral blockchains — that is, maps of blockchains used to render data visualizations that are much easier to comprehend.
Right now, the internet requires you to visit one page at a time, one site at a time to get information, he explained.
“With blockchain, the internet could look like a first-person shooter game, where you can navigate it in real time and gather analytics and other information in real time.” The implications for projects like developing inner-city neighborhoods would be significant, Nevins said.
“The impetus is here for us to put our heads together to make these solutions coalesce and rise to the surface,” he added. “We end up with more than just pieces to the puzzle, we see the solutions to the problems holding us back as well.”
There are other solutions on the drawing board, too. Dan Knorr, director of external and government relations at Bloomsburg University, talked about the school’s efforts to get a student business incubator off the ground. It’s part of an initiative that aims to get students and the university more connected, not just with the local community, but to help them get a foothold in the real world of business and commerce.
Jason Bannon of Ben Franklin Technology Partners said supporting and encouraging the startup ecosystem was a critical factor as well.
For his part, Bonk said he was encouraged by the Grow PA gathering and its focus on real-world solutions, rather than abstract ideals of how to get things done.
“You can’t solve the problem until you identify the problem,” he said. “We have a lot of arguments with each other in this region, and sometimes we can’t get politics out of the equation. But economic development is a non-partisan issue everyone can agree on. We can figure out where we have strengths and where we need to focus on growth.”