County called diamond in rough
By Monica Pryts Herald Staff Writer The Sharon Herald Thu Dec 30, 2010, 12:00 PM EST
MERCER COUNTY — Committee members of a new economic development organization met Wednesday in Hermitage to get ideas from an expert who shared his vision for Mercer County.
Daniel C. Gundersen spoke at Avalon Golf and Country Club at Buhl Park to a large crowd of area leaders, officials and business owners, offering advice on how organizations, governments and other key groups can better work together to create more jobs and further economic growth.
The Mercer County Growth Alliance, which is in the process of forming and looking for a chief executive officer, hopes to launch this weekend, said Richard Epstein, a member of the group’s search committee.
The alliance wants its members to come together to connect with each other and branch out to other regions to share resources.
To make that connection, the members need a positive attitude and with the right leadership and Gundersen’s expertise is a good starting point, Epstein said.
Gundersen, who’s held economic development positions with state government offices in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New York, is a senior advisor with Econsult Corp., Philadelphia and serves on the board of the International Economic Development Council, a worldwide association for the economic development field.
He’s never lived where he’s worked and is ready to settle down; he’s been impressed with the Mercer County area.
There’s always room for improvement, as the county’s unemployment rate for December was 10.7 percent, compared to the statewide 8.6 percent, he said.
“That’s not good. In fact, that is very challenging,” Gundersen said.
Other areas of concern include the county’s small population, residents ages 65 and older who can’t be part of the workforce and low median-household incomes.
The rate of high school graduates is good, but not many of those people earn bachelors or higher degrees compared to the rest of the state, he said.
Economic development is a relatively young field that started in the 1940s and it’s always changing. There’s more of an awakening now with problems stemming from the nation’s recession, making it harder to figure out who’s responsible for creating and maintaining local jobs, Gundersen said.
Business and economic development leaders must be “hand-on champions” to gain the confidence and support of their communities with these fundamentals: infrastructure, innovation, intellectual capital, international, intrigue and investment.
“Do that and I think the future is very bright for this area,” Gundersen said.
The area doesn’t have all the necessary resources but some are just an hour away in Pittsburgh, Cleveland or Erie, and the county could consider itself the center of those regions, he said.
“Diamond in the rough; that’s Mercer County right now,” he said.