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May/June 2000

Inside This Issue:

 

Rural Access Guide Introduced As Part of Center's Website
With just a few keystrokes and a click of your computer mouse, you can now access more than 350 sources of information on state, federal and nonprofit grants, loans and other assistance through the Center for Rural Pennsylvania’s newly released Pennsylvania Rural Access Guide.

In April, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania released the website version of the Pennsylvania Rural Access Guide at the annual convention of the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors (PSATS). PSATS, a local government association that represents the interests of the state’s townships of the second class, helped the Center for Rural Pennsylvania to develop the database of information for the guide.

Representative Sheila Miller, chairman of the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, says: "Providing rural and small communities with the information they need to remain viable and healthy is at the heart of the Center for Rural Pennsylvania’s mission. We redeveloped the original Rural Access Guide and introduced it as part of our website so that more rural and small communities could take advantage of the wealth of information that the guide offers."

Redeveloping an original

In 1994, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania first published the Rural Access Guide as a booklet, which was a scaled down version of a much larger database of information. The booklet included a sampling of state, federal and nonprofit grants, loans and technical assistance programs and highlighted each program’s goals and objectives, funding availability and contact information. It was widely distributed throughout the state and was well received by rural residents, local government officials, and community organizations.

Anyone who was interested in accessing more of the database was encouraged to contact the Center for Rural Pennsylvania to receive a printout of the programs that fit the request.

In this updated version of the guide, however, the entire database is immediately accessible through the Center’s website at www.ruralpa.org.

"The Center’s Board of Directors decided that the guide should be offered on the Center’s website so that more users would have easy, immediate access," says Barry Denk, director of the Center for Rural Pennsylvania.

Recognizing that some rural residents may not have convenient access to the Internet, the Center has once again published a booklet version of the guide for limited distribution.

The Center, however, is encouraging users to access the guide through the website to continue getting the most up-to-date program information.

"The Center plans to update the website information at least once a year," Denk says, "so those accessing the website will have the most current information about the programs listed.

"The ability to keep information current is a big advantage of the website version," he says. "We encourage users to visit their libraries and schools if they do not have Internet access at home or elsewhere so that they may take advantage of the information available in the guide."

Some things never change

This updated version of the Pennsylvania Rural Access Guide, like its predecessor, is not intended to be the final stop for information, however.

"It is more of a starting point from which rural and small town residents might more successfully begin their journey through the maze of financial and informational sources that are available at both the state and national levels," Rep. Miller says. "We hope that, with the help of the Rural Access Guide, rural residents will take advantage of more programs that are available to them so that they might continue to answer the needs of their communities and organizations."

Try logging on now!

To use the Pennsylvania Rural Access Guide, visit the Center for Rural Pennsylvania’s website at www.ruralpa.org and select Rural Access Guide.

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Chairman’s Message
Have you ever felt totally lost and frustrated because you didn't know where to turn for information and were overwhelmed as to where to start? To help you avoid that experience, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors joined forces in preparing a tool to make it easier to gather vital information for whatever project you undertake and stay on track.

This tool, called the Pennsylvania Rural Access Guide, is now available on the Internet. This team effort to make information more accessible and available to all Pennsylvanians, especially those in rural areas, began last year and was recently unveiled at the State Association’s 78th Annual Convention in Hershey. The guide, accessible at the Center for Rural Pennsylvania's website and avail-able soon in a limited number of hard copies, contains more than 350 listings of federal, state, foundation and nonprofit resources. Check out our feature story on this latest Center publication.

You'll also want to read some Center for Rural Pennsylvania survey results of what downtown Main Street managers revealed about their status and emerging issues. It was interesting to learn that the average downtown has 100 businesses and about 40 percent of the visitors are tourists and business travelers. In a one-year period, more than $86 million was invested in various revitalization, development and promotional activities. Turn to page 5 to find out more.

Recently, Pennsylvania celebrated Tourism Week. Recognizing the fast-growing heritage and cultural segment of the tourism industry, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania joined with several other state agencies to sponsor regional heritage tourism workshops. For dates and locations, check out the conference listings on page 7. A local heritage tourism program, the Center for Arts and Folklife in the Northern Tier, is highlighted in an article on page 3. This successful venture received early stage funding from the Center for Rural Pennsylvania through a grant to Mansfield University.

This issue of Rural Perspectives also contains information that emphasizes the importance of an accurate Census in 2000. For the first time since 1993, Pennsylvania’s population dropped below 12 million. While some rural areas experienced growth, other rural areas have leveled off. The data also showed almost 90 percent of the jobs created from 1998 to 1999 were in urban areas. During that period, 22 rural counties had either a decline or no change in the number of jobs.

As you read this issue, or view our electronic Rural Access Guide, you will see the Center for Rural Pennsylvania's continuing commitment to providing rural Pennsylvania with the tools it needs to assess the present and improve the future. As always, we welcome your comments.

Representative Sheila Miller

Chairman

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Center for Arts and Folklife Keeps Heritage Alive in PA’s Northern Tier
What started out as a loose coalition of local art and history buffs to complete a cultural inventory in the northern tier area of Pennsylvania has grown into an organization dedicated to the continued advancement of that area’s heritage and resources.

Over the past eight years, the Center for Arts and Folklife in the Northern Tier, housed at Mansfield University in Tioga County, has been working hard on its mission to foster an appreciation of the arts, heritage, and natural resources among the residents of Pennsylvania’s northern counties.

One thing leads to another

In 1992, a group of people dedicated to the arts and history of the northern tier were asked to help develop a cultural inventory of that area of Pennsylvania. The inventory was being conducted as part of a feasibility study to determine whether the region had the resources to implement a heritage park as part of the state’s Heritage Park system.

After the inventory was completed, the northern tier group wanted to continue its work and find ways in which to showcase and support the abundance of local artists who were working throughout the region. The group decided that a special center, designed to serve as a resource in sharing the culture of the northern tier, would be an ideal way to fill that area’s cultural void; a void which also exists in other rural areas of Pennsylvania.

In 1996, under the direction of Dr. Bonelyn Kyofski of Mansfield University’s Education Department, the fledgling Folklife Center approached the Center for Rural Pennsylvania for support. The Center for Rural Pennsylvania partnered with Mansfield University and the Pennsylvania Council for the Arts and helped to develop this unique venture.

Growing into its own

Like any new organization, the Folklife Center had experienced some growing pains over the years, but it has now emerged into a strong coalition of educators, historians, artists, and cultural and tourism organizations. The Folklife Center develops and promotes the historic and cultural traditions of the northern tier by documenting local history and the arts; supporting local artists; sponsoring exhibits, concerts and events; and providing technical assistance to artists and historical and cultural organizations in the region.

The Folklife Center also provides information to support the establishment of the Lumber Heritage Region and the Endless Mountains Heritage Region. In late March, the Folklife Center held its second exhibit of local artists and their work.

Through Mansfield University, the Folklife Center offers a yearly summer graduate course for local teachers. The course allows the teachers to explore, research and prepare curriculum materials on underdeveloped or under-documented topics of local historical interest. In 1998, the class researched the activities of the underground railroad in the northern tier and developed a curriculum guide called, Northern Pennsylvania Freedom Trails: A Resource Guide for Teaching the Story of the Underground Railroad in Pennsylvania’s North Country. The guide presents the primary research of the class in a format that allows the curriculum to be easily incorporated by other local educators. The 1999 class focused its research on local industries and the year 2000 summer class will examine the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Now supported primarily by Mansfield University, the Pennsylvania Council for the Arts, fees for service, and foundation and individual support, the Folklife Center is moving toward self sufficiency.

The Folklife Center serves as an example of what can be accomplished when local people recognize the value of their native cultures, traditions and heritage, and make a commitment to support, develop and share those resources with others.

Want more info?

For more information about the Center for Arts and Folklife, contact Dr. Bonelyn Kyofski, Center for Arts and Folklife of Pennsylvania’s Northern Tier, Mansfield University, 220 Pinecrest, Mansfield, PA 16933, telephone (570) 662-4566.

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Resources Help Address Land Use Issues
Pennsylvania loses more land to development than any other state in the nation except Texas, according to the Natural Resource Inventory (NRI), published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service. What makes this statement even more interesting is that Pennsylvania’s population is decreasing. The loss of land to development and population decreases have sparked a great deal of debate statewide about the sustainability of current land use practices.

Examining PA land use

In 1999, Governor Tom Ridge issued Executive Order 1999-1, which directed the Department of Community and Economic Development’s (DCED) Center for Local Government Services to initiate the following:

- Develop an inventory of sound land use practices and make the inventory available to interested local governments and developers.

- Assist local governments looking to implement the land use objectives of the Commonwealth.

- Advise local governments of the existing tools available to manage growth within their communities.

- Encourage local governments to work with neighboring municipalities and their county on planning and zoning.

- Assist other state agencies in identifying laws, regulations, practices or policies, including the disbursement of public funds, that will advance the Commonwealth’s land use objectives.

- Partner with the state Department of Education to identify opportunities for local education agencies to incorporate land use education into curricula.

- Work in conjunction with the Governor’s Greenway Commission to support the statewide Greenways Plan.

- Form an advisory committee that will help the Center for Local Government Services develop and disseminate the inventory of sound land use practices.

- Report on land use trends in the state and make recommendations for laws or policies to support the state’s land use policy goals.

Other tools to address the issues

A result of the Center for Local Government Service’s efforts is the "Growing Smarter" proposal in the Governor’s budget. The proposal calls for an additional $3 million to help communities upgrade their municipal and intermunicipal plans. For more information about the Growing Smarter proposal, contact DCED’s Center for Local Government Services at (888) 223-6837.

The Pennsylvania General Assembly is also addressing the issues of landuse and planning in several pieces of legislation. Senate Bill 300, House Bill 13 and House Bill 14 all include provisions that would offer communities protection from exclusionary challenges to their multi-municipal comprehensive plans and zoning ordinances. The legislation includes provisions that would direct the courts to look at the entire area of the plan and not just the municipality being challenged. Under the bills, the control over planning and zoning would remain at the local level. However, if a community initiates a comprehensive plan and zoning, it must demonstrate how it intends to preserve both natural and historic resources.

Senate Bill 300 and House Bill 14 would also allow for the establishment of "growth boundaries" and the transfer of development rights programs. For more information about any of these bills, visit the state’s website at www.legis.state.pa.us.

In addition to the measures mentioned above, there are a host of other programs and resources for information on the issues of land use and sprawl. The Center for Rural Pennsylvania has compiled a list of state, federal, and nonprofit sources for funding, technical assistance and other information.

To receive the list of resources, contact the Center for Rural Pennsylvania at (717) 787-9555 or send an email to info@ruralpa.org.

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Did You Know . . .

- Hospitals and medical centers are among the top three employers in nearly 70 percent of Pennsylvania’s 42 rural counties.

- In 1996, rural areas had 418 ambulance service providers and 955 firefighting organizations.

- In 1997, about 3 percent of rural babies were not born in hospitals and less than 2 percent of urban babies were not born in hospitals.

- In 1996, there were more than 3,800 health care establishments in rural areas.

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Downtown Pennsylvania
In the fall of 1999, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania partnered with the Pennsylvania Downtown Center to conduct a survey of the state’s downtown managers. The purpose of the survey was to gather information about the economic conditions of the state’s small downtowns; to learn more about the issues facing these commercial and cultural centers of small town life; and to learn more about the types of organizations involved in helping their downtowns with revitalization efforts.

The Center for Rural Pennsylvania mailed 78 surveys to downtown managers, who are responsible for coordinating all aspects of their downtown commercial revitalization strategies. The response rate to the survey was 50 percent.

Following is a sample of the survey results.

Organizational setup

- The average downtown organization is about 15 years old.

- Almost 70 percent of the managers surveyed indicated that their organizations have participated in the state’s Main Street Program, which is administered by the state Department of Community and Economic Development. In general, the program provides financial and technical support to downtown revitalization organizations.

- Half of the downtown managers surveyed said they had budgets under $50,000. The largest sources of funding for these organizations came from membership dues, municipal governments, and state grants.

- Half of the managers surveyed said they are the only staff of the organization.

- The average downtown manager has a little more than five years experience.

What’s happening downtown?

- The average downtown has about 100 business establishments. The majority of establishments provide services such as dry cleaning, banking, and entertainment. Retail establishments, such as apparel and furniture stores, make up less than 45 percent of all downtown businesses.

- On a typical day, more than 54 percent of the visitors to the downtown are local residents and about 40 percent of the visitors are tourists and business travelers.

- From the fall of 1998 to the fall of 1999, about 42 percent of the managers said that employment in their downtown had increased. According to 51 percent of the managers, there was also an increase in new businesses.

- The average downtown saw a loss of about three businesses over the last 12 months. The most common reason managers gave for the loss was "business failure." Business loss due to relocation outside the downtown accounted for less than 33 percent of the business loss.

Downtown development

- More than 50 percent of the managers rated the following three key tourism components as poor to very poor: the link between the downtown and other tourism sites in the area; an identifiable "gateway" or entrance to the downtown; and the presence of a major tourist attraction.

- Nearly 60 percent of the managers rated their community as friendly or open to tourism. However, a majority of managers gave a mediocre rating to the public amenities for tourism and the retail opportunities available in their downtown.

- In total, managers reported that more than $86 million was invested in various revitalization projects and business development/promotional activities from the fall of 1998 to the fall of 1999. The median amount spent was $230,000.

- Managers also reported that over 750 downtown revitalization projects and business development/promotional activities were completed from the fall of 1998 to the fall of 1999. The average number of projects and activities per organization was 19. The majority of projects, or 63 percent, were for business development and promotional activities.

Biggest issues

- According to the managers, the two biggest issues facing their downtown are absentee property owners and tourism readiness. Almost 78 percent of the managers classified the issue of absentee property owners as important to very important. Tourism readiness received equally high rating from 57 percent of the respondents.

- The threat of superstores and big-box retailers moving into the area was not a critical issue to many of the managers. About 43 percent said that this issue was not important or even applicable to their downtown.

- Organizationally, the majority of managers expressed concerns about the fundamental structure of their organization. More than 83 percent of the managers identified the following as the top three issues: fundraising, board participation, and cooperation among property owners.

Want more info?

For a more detailed fact sheet on the survey, Pennsylvania Downtowns at a Crossroads, call the Center for Rural Pennsylvania at (717) 787-9555, or send an email to info@ruralpa.org.

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Pennsylvania’s Shrinking Population
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 1999 population estimates, the number of Pennsylvania residents has dipped below 12 million for the first time since 1993. The decline was especially noticeable in western Pennsylvania, where over 20,000 residents left the state from 1998 to 1999.

An analysis of birth, death, and migration data from 1998 and 1999 shows that Pennsylvania’s population loss is a result of out-migration. More than 26,900 residents moved out of the state between 1998 and 1999. Further analysis of age cohort data suggests that most of the people moving out of the state are between the ages of 25 and 34.

Pennsylvania’s rural areas are also experiencing population loss. While many rural areas gained population between 1998 and 1999, the gain was largely concentrated in just five counties including Adams, Butler, Monroe, Pike, and Wayne.

In rural areas, out-migration and low birth rates contributed to the population declines. In 16 rural counties, the number of deaths out-numbered the number of births.

Rural Pennsylvania’s population decline is not likely to end soon. Population projections to the year 2020 show that most of the state’s rural areas will grow either very slowly or not at all.

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Job Growth Rates Sluggish in Rural Areas
Data from the state Department of Labor and Industry from 1998 to 1999 shows that 45,200 new jobs or an average of 3,700 new jobs per month were created in Pennsylvania. Almost 90 percent of these jobs, however, were created in the state’s urban areas.

Between 1998 and 1999, about 4,400 new jobs were created in Pennsylvania ’s rural areas, which is an increase of only 0.4 percent. In the state’s urban areas, more than 40,800 new jobs were created for an increase of 1 percent. During this period, 20 rural counties had either a decline or no change in the number of jobs.

Even with the slight increase in the number of jobs, rural unemployment remains high. The average annual rural unemployment rate for 1999 was 5.4 percent. The urban rate was 4.1 percent. Nationally, the unemployment rate was 4.2 percent.

Regionally, all of the rural jobs created from 1998 to 1999 were in eastern Pennsylvania. Rural western Pennsylvania had no new jobs gains. The region with the highest growth rate was the urban southeast.

One possible explanation for the sluggish job growth rate in rural areas is the sluggish growth in the rural labor force, which was nearly 0 percent. Between 1998 and 1999, only 1,000 people entered the rural labor force. In comparison, over 31,900 people entered the labor force in urban areas.

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Just the Facts: Plates and Placards for People with Disabilities
People with disabilities face a variety of challenges that people without disabilities can only imagine. Activities like shopping, visiting the doctor or even seeing a movie can become formidable tasks without the necessary accessibility options like sidewalk curb cuts, ramps or a wider parking space.

To help with accessibility problems for people with disabilities, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) began providing disability plates and placards in 1991, which allow people with disabilities to park their vehicles in specially designated parking spaces.

According to data from PennDOT’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles, in 1999, there were over 679,850 vehicles that had disability plates and placards. About 25 percent of these plates and placards were issued to rural residents.

Rural areas have a slightly higher percentage of passenger cars with disability plates and placards than urban areas. In 1999, almost 11.5 percent of rural passenger cars had placards compared to 9.7 percent of the urban passenger cars.

Regionally, western Pennsylvania has the most disability plates and placards per passenger vehicle, while the southeastern region has the least. The counties with the highest ratios of placards are Lackawanna, Tioga, and Lawrence. The counties with the least placards per passenger car are Montgomery, Chester, and Bucks.

Statistically, counties with a high percentage of senior citizens have a higher percentage of passenger cars with disability plates and placards. Also, counties with a higher number of households with low median incomes have a higher percentage of cars with disability plates and placards.

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