Pottstown: Ripe for Redevelopment, But Needs a Unified Effort

“Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much.”

Helen Keller

Once a hotbed of manufacturing, Pottstown’s more recent history has been characterized by a sluggish economy and high unemployment. But its eventual revival is a certainty, as it has far too many assets to remain in the doldrums for long. Taking advantage of all that Pottstown has going for it, however, will require some fresh thinking, a spirit of unity, and a concerted effort. 

In a recent issue of Route 422 Business Advisor, former Phoenixville main street manager Barry Cassidy identified Pottstown as an area that is quite ready for economic revitalization. I trust his assessment— he has helped a number of Pennsylvania communities to orchestrate rather dramatic recoveries, including nearby Phoenixville a few years back. 

Geographically well situated

Looking at Pottstown in the geographical sense, one is almost tempted to ask what’s holding it back. With King of Prussia to the east and Wyomissing to the west, it is already part of a region bustling with business activity. This creates plenty of options for networking and strategic alliances.

Routes 422 and 100 afford access from points north south east and west. Two small airports offer yet additional options in regard to transportation terms in and out of the area. From the standpoint of accessibility, Pottstown couldn’t be better situated.

Well endowed by history

Pottstown’s rich history of business activity has left a legacy to be exploited— plenty of attractive properties available at very reasonable costs. As America shifted from a production to a service economy, the old manufacturing and distribution sites declined in value, and can now be had for a song.

To entrepreneurs in search of opportunities, these structures do not represent the past, but rather the future. Put simply, they are bargains waiting to be seized and exploited in very positive ways.

Early signs of resurgence

The first harbingers of good things to come have already appeared, and they’re only suggestive of what Pottstown’s possibilities are. Consider just a few examples of recent happenings that bode well for the community that show that its potentials are beginning to be recognized.

A thriving high tech company, Videoray, chose to relocate to the very heart of the downtown area. A leading competitor in the global market, Videoray specializes in futuristic underwater surveillance equipment. The economics of the relocation made Pottstown a choice that made perfect business sense.

Montgomery County Community College, in collaboration with a number of major colleges and universities in the Southeast Pennsylvania region, has turned a once vacant property in downtown Pottstown into a “University Center.” By studying locally at the Center, students will be able to earn bachelors and advanced degrees from an array of institutions of higher learning, including Temple, Drexel, and Villanova, just to name a few.

These are just two of the examples of what is beginning to emerge as a result the opportunities afforded by Pottstown’s past as a thriving center of commerce.  

Accelerating the process

Given its location and existing infrastructure, the real problem becomes one of orchestrating the redevelopment process in the human sense. Some good things are starting to happen, but what is needed are means of getting the redevelopment process to snowball and become a force in its own right.  

Pottstown does have plenty to offer business that may want to start up or relocate within its confines, but it’s a competitive field. A lot of communities are in similar straights and are working on their own economic redevelopment plans.

Meeting the challenges will require fresh thinking and an aggressive spirit of entrepreneurship to attract businesses that can surely benefit from what the community has to offer.

No shortage of resources

Various organizations dedicated to the betterment of the Pottstown area are already in existence, so the resources that can contribute to its revitalization are in place. The problem is one of coordinating these separate entities so that they become synergistic in terms of making Pottstown a place where entrepreneurs would want to base their businesses.

Below is a short list of some of the existing organizations in the Pottstown area that are dedicated to its growth and development:

Pottstown Area Industrial Development, Inc. (PAID). PAID is specifically dedicated to facilitating the resurgence of business in the area. Its director, Steve Bamford has been in place for a little over a year and is working energetically to assess Pottstown’s available business assets and establish strategic alliances among businesses within the immediate area and beyond. The efforts of PAID were among those that were instrumental in getting Videoray to choose to relocate to Pottstown.  We can anticipate future successes as PAID moves forward.

Pottstown Downtown Improvement District Authority (PDIDA): PDIDA’s mission under director and main street manager Sheila Dugan includes assuring that Pottstown presents an environment that is attractive to visitors, businesses, and residents, and is currently promoting a vigorous “Buy Local” campaign.  PDIDA represents a positive spirit of community, which can serve as the foundation for an economic revitalization.

Pottstown Community Land Trust (CLT): The CLT is a nonprofit group assembled for the purpose of improving the quality of residential life and maintaining property values. Under the leadership of David Jackson, the CLT is organizing to acquire residential properties and make them affordable to owner-residents who would assure their upkeep and proper usage. A highly organic and responsible group of volunteers, the CLT is also improving the aesthetics of downtown Pottstown by establishing community gardens.

Tri County Network (TNC): TNC is a nonprofit organization headquartered in Pottstown, but dedicated to addressing social problems in communities throughout the areas of Montgomery, Chester, and Berks counties. Although focused more on social problems such as unemployment and homelessness, TNC’s location in Pottstown makes that community quite an immediate concern.

Senior Core of Retired Executives (SCORE): Pottstown SCORE consists of volunteers with strong business backgrounds who offer free business counseling to entrepreneurs, as well as inexpensive workshops regarding how to start and maintain small businesses. Supported by the U.S. Government’s Small Business Administration, SCORE is a repository of wisdom and business knowhow that is available to individuals at no cost.

This list is anything but complete. If you at what Pottstown has available to it in terms the business potential, it’s quite impressive. 

Turning potential into performance

Even with lots of talent and dedication among its separate players, Pottstown suffers from the problem of being embedded in a sluggish American economy that’s affecting communities throughout the country.  This means that jumpstarting its redevelopment will still take special weapons and tactics.

Fresh ideas

Conducting business as usual therefore, is a formula for prolonging the economic downturn from which we’ve all said that we want to recover. Unfortunately, one thing that has been well catalogued in the world of business is the problem of resistance to change. But change is what confronts us, and change has to start with fresh ideas that depart from old ways of thinking.  

Spirit of unity

Where are these fresh ideas to come from? Pottstown’s separate organizations need to collaborate in ways that have been uncommon in the past. I personally am involved with several different organizations, all of which are dedicated to revitalizing Pottstown, but have little to no contact with each other. 

In response to this, I have recently dedicated myself to attempting to convince members of these various groups that they need to collaborate and coordinate their efforts. By emphasizing the commonality of the goals we pursue, we’ll all be much more successful in moving our causes forward.

Concerted effort

The directors of PAID and PDIDA clearly recognize the need for a unified effort to increase Pottstown’s identity as an attractive place to do business and have been actively collaborating in that capacity. It’s a good start, and that is exactly what we need more of.

Pottstown does have an economic redevelopment plan on file that is available to the public. This could provide a starting point for a coordinated strategy for organizing the various groups that are dedicated to its revitalization. 

But as always, concerted efforts require leadership. My discussions with various people interested in Pottstown’s future have indicated to me that there are plenty of great ideas out there, and a real eagerness to see things move forward rapidly. Pottstown is clearly ripe for redevelopment. With the right leadership, it could be ready for a real economic renaissance.