State College, Chickens, And Dogs

January jobs losses topped 700,000 – more jobs than the entire state of Maine. The national unemployment rate is now over 7%. Several hundred billion TARP dollars have simply gone missing. The automakers need a bailout. Home foreclosures are up sharply. Should we spend 1 trillion dollars on the economic stimulus package? How about 2 or 3 trillion? While the debate rages in Washington about stimulating the economy, there is (sadly) little debate about stimulating our local economy.

Our local leaders are more inclined to squabble about chickens and dogs, than deal with the big, complicated, and weighty issues of our local economy and future as a town and gown. State College, as it has been pointed out in recent months, is considered to be “almost recession proof”. The operative word here is ‘almost’.

If we take our collective heads out of the sand for merely a couple moments, one can see stores in downtown State College are hurting. Old State Clothing is shutting its doors to downsize to a smaller location. Tadpole Crossing is having a 50% off moving sale – they too are downsizing. Uni-Mart is closed altogether with brown paper over its windows. The Artisan Collection is also gone. …And more closings are coming.

Fraser Centre, the cornerstone to a newly revived, growing and prosperous town center, is having trouble getting financing. The banks are refusing to issue the loan if there is no pre-signed lease on the commercial space prior to construction.

And our local leaders continue to haggle over chickens and dogs.

At the University, meanwhile, Governor Rendell is proposing significant funding cuts to its coffers. Students are locked out of financial aid options. Staff is not getting raises and hiring freezes are in place. All the while tuition continues to increase at better than three times the rate of inflation!

Or, are economic times really that difficult for the University?

Let’s consider….in the past twelve months alone, Penn State has purchased the Smith property (across Atherton Street from Kinkos and the Walker Building), the Houtz property in the West End (formerly Urban Village), and the James Building (home to The Daily Collegian). And Penn State is in the midst of a lawsuit to purchase the fraternity house on Burrowes Street. All totaled, that is around 15 million dollars in land acquisitions this past year alone.

The real salt on the wound to State College Borough is that these formerly privately owned properties are now public, hence, have been removed from the tax roles. This significantly further complicates State College’s financial situation.

These developments have very real consequences for both students and fulltime residents alike. The economic situation in the Borough is weakening drastically. It will take all our efforts to move past them; but to do so will require a focus on the things that matter most, not chickens and dogs.