Hey Erie! I know that you are angry that our best paying jobs are few and far between and don’t seem to be coming back. I get it. I am pissed too. I long for the days before I can remember, the days when regular people worked in manufacturing and were paid a solid middle-class wage. I would love to have some sort of leverage against my employer or to be looked at as an important part process of making a company profitable. All too often these days employees are made to feel replaceable and unimportant. I see it and I have felt it. This feeling is real and has been entrenched into psyche of Erie for as long as I can remember.
The weird thing is that we pride ourselves on our ability to persevere and overcome obstacles. We look at our regional challenges such as ridiculous winter weather and scoff. Or we power through oppressively humid summer days without batting an eye. We are a strong and prideful community. Yet we have a flaw which might be fatal and is most definitely catching among our fellow citizens.
Recently comedian Bill Maher spoke about a problem called spatial geographic inequality which is basically the trend of the most educated and affluent people are gathering in just a few cities in America such as Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco. This can be seen locally with the brain drain of our college graduates and the downward trend of our population. A extremely vocal portion of our community lashes out at the well-off within our city that actively invest in Erie’s future development on a consistent basis.
We all have heard whining about the Nick Scotts of the world owning everything or seeming to at least. Those that have the means, smarts or courage to take chances and invest throughout Erie are often spoken about with a bit of unearned contempt. Jealousy rearing its nasty head, I guess.
This isn’t an attempt to cast aspersions at the great people of Erie, but it is an attempt to call out some of our internal community negativity. We traditionally have a hell of a time as a community when it comes to consistently support ourselves. Our first inclination when something big is happening locally is to point out the most negative aspect and focus on that negative perception almost exclusively. This tendency is self-defeating and very infectious.
This is where Bill Maher can help drive us. Bill Maher thinks people in middle America, not New York or L.A., want to or need to be more like the big cities. Bill thinks we are jealous of those cities but also blindly, and most importantly, self-destructive in our attempt to lash out at more prosperous areas in the country. Unfortunately, I think he is right. Take a moment to think about the comments we all either make or hear about Pittsburgh, Buffalo, or Cleveland. Are they the comments that tear down the benefits and opportunities afforded in a larger city? Did you or that person lead with a positive? My bet is the negative was expressed.
This negativity is why Bill Maher is right. We consistently tear down regions that are more prosperous than us. While at the same time continually tear down those around us that are excelling either professionally or financially. The innate Erie trait keeps us moored in the past successes at the detriment of Erie’s future. For us to rebound as a community we need to stop punching down and lashing out. We can’t attack the Wabtec workers fighting for better wages because this is a proxy battle for all workers that are chronically underpaid in our region. We must start embracing the government investments in our community such as the opportunity zone grants and loans and the upgrades at the Warner Theater and UPMC Park.
In addition, we need local private investments to flourish. We need risk taking entrepreneurs such as Scott, Griffith, etc. Our part as a community is to support the new businesses opening around Erie and to use positive word of mouth to enhance the narrative about Erie. Such a positive message can be the new local infection.
Ultimately, Erie has an opportunity to fight spatial geographic inequality by becoming some sort of positivity Mecca for northwest Pennsylvania. Instead of lashing out at our own higher paid members of the community or tearing down those who invest in Erie maybe we can shift to saying the first positive thing that comes to mind about the benefit of higher wages or more small businesses.
If we take that small positive step forward, we can start to emulate the coastal cities and become a community that will retain our best and brightest from the universities in the greater Erie area. If we can keep local talent, we might also begin to attract those who would traditionally move to the larger and more affluent cities throughout the United States.
Locally Erie is at a pivot point. We can continue to down the well-trodden path of myopic local negativity or we can embrace a new paradigm of positivity about Erie. We will never be New York City, but we can become the regional asset that challenges the reasons people move away.
I challenge you to tell an out of town friend something positive about what is going on in Erie. Just remember this all starts with us!