No matter who prevails in this year’s presidential race, Ellwood City could be the winner.
As of today, there are three candidates still in the running – although one of those campaigns is on life support and Dr. Kevorkian’s pager is beeping.
All three of them have acknowledged the need to address environmental challenges, and plan to make large investments of federal money in environmentally oriented businesses.
There’s no reason why a big wad of that federal cash couldn’t be used to fund companies in Ellwood City. More important, there are some big reasons, starting with a growing envirobusiness base, that it could.
This town already has one of the world’s leading innovators in energy-efficient LED lighting technology with Jim Wassel and his Wayne Township-based Appalachian Lighting Systems.
As Appalachian Lighting Systems sells more streetlights and warehouse fixtures, it will exert pressure on LED manufacturers to build a facility here.
INMETCO, a major local employer, recycles potentially hazardous metals, keeping them out of the soil and water. Architect Dan Franus, based on Lawrence Avenue, is a certified green builder.
The state government already has incentives in place to encourage public entities to adopt energy efficient applications in their buildings – a development, by the way, which has been a boon for Ellwood City-based Eric Ryan Corp.
It’s not outrageous to expect that future programs would provide incentives for municipal governments and schools to construct environmentally friendly buildings, or that some of Ellwood City’s vacant factories could be turned into facilities to manufacture, say, baked-earth building panels.
Dom Viccari, Ellwood City manager, said local officials would be receptive to turning this region into a hotbed for envirobusiness.
“We’d be the first to jump into that,” he said.
In fact, they already have.
The borough is installing more than 100 LED streetlights designed by Wassel, and those lights already are cutting Ellwood City’s energy costs.
Viccari said Wassel will try to rig up a hydroelectric generator that would run off the wastewater treatment plant’s discharge line. If that’s successful, the plant would provide at least some of its own electricity.
Historically, Ellwood City has embraced industrial innovation. The seamless steel tube and barbed wire were first mass-manufactured here. Can anyone say hydrogen fuel cell?
So far, the Ellwood City Resuscitation – excuse me, Revitalization – Committee hasn’t come forward with a vision of how to market this town beyond cosmetic
improvements to the business district.
Considering the current political and economic climate, that marketing scheme would look good in green.
Chasing envirobusinesses might be risky, but it’s time to take a hard look at the local business climate and admit that things won’t turn around unless we take big risks.
We hurt ourselves by sugarcoating the state of Ellwood City’s business district because, by saying the situation is better than it really is or that an improvement is imminent, we risk convincing ourselves that we just need to fiddle with the knobs a little.
But as much as we all enjoy fiddling with knobs, it’s time to throw away the radio, figuratively speaking.
And the committee’s marketing plan should consist at least in part of getting the word out to green businesses, in letters 50 miles high, that Ellwood City is a town with a heritage of industrial innovation, and local government and educational officials who embrace new technologies.
If Ellwood City is to be revitalized, it won’t be by pining for its past, but by pursuing the opportunities of its future.
Eric Poole can be reached online at firstname.lastname@example.org.