Rising Tides Lift All Ships

Oil City, Franklin, Cranberry, Emlenton, Barkeyville, Polk, Rouseville, Utica, Kennerdell—just some of the communities located in Venango County.  The only thing separating these areas is distance. There are no physical borders, fences, or anything of the sort. Why, though, does it sometimes seem like each community is in its own little world?

Many times I’ve heard comments such as: “Franklin? That’s too far to travel from Oil City,” “I didn’t know Emlenton was in Venango County,” or “I live in Cranberry and have everything I need here.” There are many people completely unaware of the unique parts that come together to create our amazing region.

Luckily, I come in contact with community leaders each and every day who have a regional mindset.  We were lucky enough to bring about 15 of these people together last week at the Barnard House in Emlenton to discuss what we, as an entire region, can do to help the Venango Area succeed.

There were representatives from three local chambers (Venango, Franklin, and Titusville), Oil Region Alliance, Titusville Redevelopment Authority, Cranberry Township, City of Franklin, County Planning, County Commissioners, Bridge Builders Community Foundations, Pennsylvania Environmental Council, Small Business Development Center, SCORE, and the owners of the Barnard House, who are local business owners living and working in Emlenton and active in other local organizations.

I was amazed at the fact that all of these people took a chunk out of their days to come together for a discussion with Pete Eshelman, our guest who came representing Roanoke Outside and the Roanoke Regional Partnership.

Roanoke is located in Virginia and, in 2009, Pete was challenged with leveraging the community’s assets to grow the economy. His approach was to make Roanoke a true outdoors community, recognizing hiking, biking, climbing, camping, running, caving, fishing, paddling, and more, as a way to bring both talent and business to the region.

From years of hard work, excellent messaging, and the community coming together, Roanoke has grown tremendously through this project. Businesses such as breweries, outdoor product manufacturers and retailers, technology companies, and much more, have located to Roanoke.

I’ve heard about Pete and what he’s doing in Roanoke many times while working at the Chamber. My boss, Susan, has a daughter who lives and works in the same area in Virginia and Susan came across Pete quite a few years ago. When hearing that Pete was traveling to Pennsylvania for an event, Susan did not hesitate to find a way to get him to take a stop in our region, and I’m so glad she did.

In the living room of the Barnard House, Pete described his experience and gave us advice for how we can help our region accomplish great things. He spoke about taking inventory of their assets, bringing in large companies, attracting a young workforce, building local support, creating a national image, and much more.

We had long discussions about how we, too, can utilize our assets, many of those also related to outdoor recreation, to build our economy and bring our communities together. Because if Roanoke can do it, why can’t we?

The one phrase he said multiple times that really stuck with me was:

“Rising tides lift all ships.”

Yes, in our region, we have dozens of municipalities, each with its own businesses, residents, employees, and goals, but if one of us succeeds, we all benefit. While each separate community should focus on its own needs, at the end of the day, we are all together in one region.

I was encouraged last week to see leaders from organizations throughout the community come together to hear what Pete had to say. Building up our community has not been and will not be easy. There will always be obstacles—even Roanoke has it’s challenges still—but the more we come together as a region to persevere, the more the Venango Area will thrive.

Where do you live, work, shop, eat, attend church, go to community events, exercise, and see the doctor? Chances are, you go to multiple places throughout the County to do these things.

I encourage you to recognize your community as more than a town or city, but as an entire region, and think about how we can all work together, like Roanoke, to lift our ship.