Getting ready to grow

With traffic choking the major metropolitan areas of the country, I think that some smaller cities like Roanoke, Virginia and Scranton, Pennsylvania are poised for growth, if they can adequately address a range of quality of life issues. These smaller cities may have a rush hour, but it usually measured in minutes, not hours, and because they are located outside major urban corridors, it is possible to have a nice house in the woods a few miles from town and still drive to work in fifteen or twenty minutes.

But no one is going to move to those places only because of a shorter commute. There has to be enough activity to attract both entrepreneurs and young people. Entrepreneurs want to talk to savvy and well-informed economic developers, they want inexpensive, downtown office space for their start ups, they want good places to eat, and they want great coffee shops. Young twenty-something workers want good shopping, lots of social activities, and some night life.

Northeastern Pennsylvania, home to Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, and dozens of smaller communities, is poised for growth. The Wall Street West initiative will bring massive bandwidth into the region to attract larger financial firms, and Scranton's investments in sports arenas and recreational activities (how about skiing ten minutes from downtown?) will help attract and retain workers.

Roanoke, Virginia, nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains, has convenient access to some of the best hiking, biking, and whitewater sports on the east coast, with a dizzying array of recreational options. The City's leadership has embarked on a wide variety of initiatives to attract younger workers, including a newly revamped Web site. This week, the City is also announcing a new initiative called, which is designed to help retailers easily learn about the Roanoke area market.

Lively and attractive small cities are also important to nearby rural towns. Not everyone wants to live "in town," and a vibrant small city an hour or two from a rural community enhances the value of that small town as well. Regional collaboration on marketing, recreational activities, and economic development can pay big benefits.

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