Pastoral. Quaint. Amish.
If these are the types of words that come to mind when – heck, if – you ever find yourself discussing Lancaster, let’s just say you wouldn’t be incorrect. But while the county boasts its fair share of farmlands, cattle and buggy tours, there also exists a tech scene in and around the city that’s fast on the rise.
Personally speaking, I wasn’t exactly given the option to live in Lancaster. Not at first, at least. My folks relocated here from Philly just before I marched into this world, and here I lived, up until I moseyed on down to Baltimore for college and eventually to Arlington, Va., for not only my first “real” job, but also my first foray in the world of tech, at a great PR agency called Merritt Group.
During my six-year hiatus from my hometown, I kept close tabs on the region’s evolution, most notably in Downtown Lancaster where new restaurants, art galleries, music venues, coffee shops and small businesses were popping up en masse. On the two-year anniversary of the date I had first moved to Virginia, I packed up and headed back home to join in on the cultural shift that was actively occurring in Lancaster. Now, seven years since returning to town, I now find myself in the thick of a tech scene that is quickly making a name for itself.
For those familiar with the Lancaster tech scene, this isn’t exactly news. Development shops like Williams Forrest and Industrial Resolution, where I run sales and marketing, have been servicing clients like BMW, the Electric Factory and Hewlett Packard, as well as the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute and the United States Golf Association, for years. Multimedia company Greenfish Labs was recently tapped to provide its 360-degree video technology to the Democratic National Convention. Aspire Ventures broke ground in September on a $35 million health center that will showcase some of the newest tech available in healthcare. Listrak is empowering brands big and small to automate their marketing efforts with huge results. The list goes on.
It’s not like there’s some secret chemical in the soil that’s feeding this wave of tech innovation. More likely is that it’s the character and climate of the region. Lancastrians, whether native sons or transplants, are earnest, hard workers who seem to be naturally inclined to value collaboration and skill-sharing. In the local tech scene, this is made evident by the bevy of meetups that occur weekly (check out the calendar on the Tech Lancaster website) and groups like Lancaster CoderDojo and Hack Night Lancaster, which afford local technologists the opportunity to use their coding knowhow for good, whether teaching kids coding basics or lending their craft to one of the region’s many nonprofits.
Additionally, Pubforge, a newly-opened tech-focused coworking space run by my employer, Industrial Resolution, hosts a regular series called Pubforge Presentations at which thought leaders from across the world of tech give free-to-attend presentations, while the annual Central Pennsylvania Open Source Conference, which I organize, assembles the region’s developers for a day of sharing, debating and spotlighting all that’s new and exciting in the world of open source tech. This year it’s on Saturday, Nov. 19 at Millersville University in Downtown Lancaster.
At a more macro level, Lancaster’s proximity to major markets – we’re just an hour train ride to Philly, two-hour train to New York, an hour drive to Baltimore, a little over two hours to Washington D.C. and four hours to Pittsburgh – offers easy accessibility to the big cities all the while living, working, dining, drinking and entertaining oneself in a charming, low cost-of-living, historic city. This has drawn the attention of companies and remote workers in recent years, most notably the online reputation management company BrandYourself, a New York City company that opened its second office in a redeveloped tobacco warehouse in Downtown Lancaster earlier this year, on the advice of an investor and with help from state grants and tax incentives. And as the citywide fiber internet program is unrolled over the next year, it’s safe to assume that more and more businesses will continue to take notice.
If you’re finding it hard to believe that a city that is home to the nation’s oldest operating farmer’s market (one that CNN Travel ranks as among the top 10 in the world, to boot) is also a hotbed of technological innovation, we don’t entirely blame you. But while Lancaster’s agricultural history has played a major part in getting the city to where it is today, we’re betting the city’s tech scene is going to lead the charge in shaping the city’s future. Don’t believe it? Just come on out for a visit and see for yourself.