Thursday, August 07, 2008

Going, Going, Gone?

Scranton is in the news again. It's amazing to me the amount of press that the town gets, especially based upon its size and situation. See, e.g., All Roads Lead to Scranton. Unfortunately, this time the buzz is more like a buzzard flying overhead, checking out the dying carcass below.

My husband sent me an article in the Scranton paper, Scranton lands on Forbes ‘dying’ list, which reports:

Landing a spot on one of Forbes magazine’s popular lists is often a distinction for the rich and famous.

But in Scranton’s case, it’s a black eye for the down and out.

Forbes has named Scranton among “America’s Fastest-Dying Cities,” a list of 10 Rust Belt stragglers that also includes Cleveland, Detroit and Buffalo, N.Y.

The story, published Tuesday on the magazine’s Web site, bases its analysis on a few chief criteria — population loss, unemployment and meager Gross Domestic Product growth.

According to Forbes, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre metropolitan area’s population declined 11,197 since 2000, while unemployment in June reached 6.2 percent, and its GDP is growing annually at only 1.3 percent.

“It’s terrible to end up on a list like that, period,” said Austin Burke, president of the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce. “It undoes all the good we’ve been doing, at least from a psychological point of view.”

By Forbes’ estimation, these 10 cities “struggled the worst of any areas in the nation in the 21st century. And they face even bleaker futures.”

The Forbes piece describes the worst of the worst, America's Fastest-Dying Cities, observing:
Where's it worst? Ohio, according to our analysis, which racked up four of the 10 cities on our list: Youngstown, Canton, Dayton and Cleveland. The runner-up is Michigan, with two cities--Detroit and Flint--making the ranking.

These, and four other metropolitan statistical areas, as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau, face fleeing populations, painful waves of unemployment and barely growing economies. By our measure, they've struggled the worst of any areas in the nation in the 21st century. And they face even bleaker futures.

* * * *

Another brutal statistic all the cities share is a diminishing population. So far this decade, 115,000 people have left Cleveland, for other climes. Smaller changes in other regions can be just as painful. Nearly 30,000 people have left Youngstown, Ohio, and they aren't being replaced by either new babies or new immigrants.

Still, the cities we found to be struggling don't vary widely by age, and this factor had little influence in the rankings. The oldest city in our top 10, Scranton, Pa., had 45% of its population over 45; the youngest, Flint had 38% over 45.

In an accompanying pictorial, the magazine gave its description of Scranton:

Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, Penn. are no longer thriving coal towns, and the region has struggled to build a post-industrial economy. Some help has come from the unlikeliest of sources: NBC comedy The Office, set in Scranton, gave the city an excuse to start an annual "Office" convention. The first convention in 2007 drew thousands, prompting the Philly Daily News to declare a transition "from coal to cool."

In the Times piece, the Mayor of Scranton dismissed the death-knell prediction by Forbes:

Mayor Chris Doherty was blunt in shrugging off the bad publicity.

“It’s obvious Forbes has never been to Scranton,” he said.

“Look at our city,” Mr. Doherty added. “It speaks for itself. The proof is coming into Scranton.”

I hate to be the one to tell him, but I've been to Scranton and I've seen the proof first hand.

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