I’m greatly proud to say the Lehigh Valley is the region I’ve called home my entire life. It’s been a great privilege and a rewarding experience to maintain my deep roots in the city of Easton as the place where I now work and play. As I look forward to 2016 as the Easton Area Chamber of Commerce representative and forecast what exciting growth initiatives it possesses, I’m encouraged to reflect on where it all started for me personally and professionally.
Some of my early, and very special, Easton experiences include: back-to-school shoe shopping at Seidel’s in Centre Square; twirling in flower girl dresses at Sigal’s Bridal Shop on Northampton Street; faithfully attending every Easton-Phillipsburg High School rivalry game on Thanksgiving Day, and constantly begging my parents to take me to Easton Baking Co. in the West Ward on Sunday mornings for bakery pizza. I now have the opportunity to work in the same city where all these childhood memories occurred, which serves as continued inspiration for me to create a sense of place for residents, business owners and visitors.
Easton has seen important interest from entrepreneurs in the past 10 years. In the past year alone, I’ve had countless conversations with Chamber members about their desire to grow their business, or open a new business, within the city. We’ve also experienced a notable influx of individuals and families with a desire to live in an urban setting where they work or operate a business. The urban living trend is being addressed by developers with projects such as the Simon Silk Mill, the A&D building and the former Governor Wolf School building.
We are now living in a world where our society expects the everyday conveniences and enhanced quality-of-life experiences at their fingertips. They want to walk out their front door and grab a bite to eat, meet a client, attend a community concert or event, shop for a friend’s birthday, or go see a show at the local theater. The idea of convenient, connected urban living is trumping the preceding American dream of the suburban home with the iconic white picket fence. The good news is that Easton already possesses the necessary infrastructure to support this renewed interest in the urban experience.
Now, Easton stands on solid ground thanks to proactive economic and community development planning, conscientious financial forecasting, an emphasis on “Clean and Safe” programs throughout the city, and the constant willingness to collaborate with regional partners.
Also, we’ve witnessed increased interest from developers who are attracted to investing in Easton, on various scales of participation, by taking underused, but desirable buildings, and transforming them into usable spaces for both residential and commercial purposes. The community believes in the successes of our city and is willing, now more than ever, to step up and get involved in the renaissance through lending their time, talents and resources to strengthen Easton.
As we look ahead to 2016, you’ll witness: commitment to each of the four neighborhoods, recognizing and celebrating their distinctiveness while also encouraging collaboration through community-building initiatives; attention to clean, green and safe environments throughout the city; stronger action taken on vacant and dilapidated properties; investment into new economic and community development projects supported through the public and private sectors; and incentive programs to encourage residential investment that will assist with the housing availability to support a growing population. The development strategy will be derived from the dynamics and the needs of the places and people in Easton.
Whether we reside, play, or work in Easton — or probably all of the above — we must remain committed to bettering the quality of life and strengthening the local economy. We are a city of an incredibly diverse group of innovators, teachers, collaborators, business professionals, artists and leaders who will continue to work toward common goals for growth.
As a regional community and Chamber, we also must continue to support and buy local in every way possible to guarantee our business communities stay strong and viable. On behalf of the Chamber and our 500 Easton area businesses, we look forward to another landmark year of advancement.
Furthermore, Alison B. Pickel is executive vice president for the Easton & Phillipsburg initiatives of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce.