Diveristy Forum-“Economic Justice: Dignity Through Opportunity”- Spring 17 Student Articles

Better Together

By: Alyssa Hicks

Without people who work hard to create prosperity and improvement for all, our communities would fail to thrive. There are crusaders in the fight against poverty and lack of opportunities for all citizens. Alicia Miller Karner is one of these crusaders.

Karner is the Director of Community and Economic Development for the City of Bethlehem. She works hard to encourage business and job creation within the community. Karner’s goal is to make sure that residents have places to work and make livable wages to ensure they can remain in the community. There is a lot of hard that goes into making a city more attractive to business and they do so by creating promotional and tax incentive programs.

In 1995, the city of Bethlehem lots its shining jewel, Bethlehem Steel, and had to find a way to recover from a huge economic loss. The benefit of Bethlehem Steel closing is that it opened the door to an immense amount of land development. The city was determined to make a comeback and it did so by created several programs to incentivize business to develop companies in the area.

One of the city’s most successful program is the Keystone Innovation Zone (KIZ) and its mission is: “to foster innovation and create entrepreneurial opportunities by aligning the combined resources of educational institutions, the public sector, and the private sector.” This program offers financial resources and assist startup companies. According to the program’s website, KIZ has invested over $70 million dollars in 90 companies.

Karner and her department look for new ways to incentivize businesses and encourage prosperity by coming up with new ideas while also utilizing what is available. The city uses its 275 years of unique history as well its local entities to ensure economic development that will benefit all members of the community. Karner shared that this is a community that works hard to keep businesses in the area and to make the standard of living better for everyone. The city is filled with people who want to help. Whether it is the businesses that are willing to invest in the city or community volunteer, regardless it is clear that this city shows we are better together.

Interview of Jackie Parker

By: Shannon Pascal

The Widener Journal of Law, Economics and Race has dedicated this year’s Diversity Forum to the topic of “Dignity through Opportunity.”  As future lawyers, we could argue endlessly about the meanings of “dignity,” “opportunity” and, yes, even “through.”  However, rather than engaging in pointless lawyerly navel-gazing, we went out and spoke with the people who are actually fulfilling the promise of Dignity through Opportunity in our communities.

One such person is Jackie Parker, the Director of the Department of Community and Economic Development for the City of Harrisburg (“Department”).  The Department is involved in “all aspects of the development process” in the City of Harrisburg, and works with neighborhoods and communities to enhance the prosperity of Harrisburg citizens. Suffice it to say, it is a department with a very expansive mission.  When asked about how her department facilitates Dignity through Opportunity, Ms. Parker was able to pinpoint two specific goals: 1) reaching out to communities and giving residents the tools they need to find and maintain employment, and 2) once they have found work, helping them move up and out of entry-level positions.

The Department reaches out to local communities through various town halls where they direct residents to PA Careerlink and training programs provided by the Harrisburg Chamber of Commerce, Harrisburg Area Community College and others to help prepare them for finding and maintaining employment.  Ms. Parker said that schools often do not prepare students for employment and that many people lack essential job skills.  Thus, the programs her department directs residents towards helps them learn and develop those critical skills.  The Department also directs residents to language programs aiding first generation residents overcome the language barriers that often prevent able workers from finding meaningful employment.

Finally, once residents are employed, it is important that they are able to move up and out of entry-level positions.  Ms. Parker stated that people often need to be pushed to seek promotions because many of the residents the Department targets are not self-starters and businesses will not go out of their way to encourage upward movement from their own employees.  The Department helps by connecting residents with continuing education programs.  More importantly, however, Ms. Parker and the Department encourage achievement.  Often, the promise of Dignity through Opportunity is not denied us by oppressive outside forces, but by the very roadblocks of self-doubt and low expectations we place in front of ourselves.  It may seem like much in the grand scheme of thing, but a little bit of encouragement can go a long way towards helping a disadvantaged neighbor achieve the promise of Dignity through Opportunity.

Together, We Move Forward

By: Charles Campbell

In time of division, when refusal to compromise and partisan obstructionism is the norm it can seem as though the government has forgotten that it is for the people. However, despite the storm clouds that gather over Washington a few strands of light seem to have managed to poke their way through the clouds. One such beam of light has found its way to hills of Pennsylvania and landed in Carlisle. In Carlisle Mayor Timothy Scott is at the head of a number of redevelopment project to breathe life back into the ageing infrastructure and economy of his city. Starting in 2009 when three different manufacturers, like some many others in recent times, called it quits and headed for greener pastures Mayor Scott started stepped forward. Seeing the area he grew up in falling apart he began seeking ways to rebuild. Through partnerships with both public and private entity Mayor Scott has begun a number of projects to rebuild and revitalize. Numbered among these projects are the Carlisle Connectivity Project, The Shopsteading Loan program, and Stormwater Park. The Carlisle Connectivity Project is an ambitious revitalization project designed to repair intersections and sidewalks while developing a mix of residential and commercial areas in the vacant areas left behind by the manufactures bringing around 3,000 jobs to the area. This plan is estimated to bring over 49 million dollars in new tax revenue to the borough of Carlisle over the next twenty years. In order to begin reclaiming this area for his city the Mayor has sought partnerships near and far. From the local school district and County to create a tax free zone to draw new businesses to the area, to the United States Department of Transportation for a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery or “TIGER” grant. The TIGER grant alone sends seven million dollars over three years into Carlisle to help restore its infrastructure. The Shopsteading loan program is a method through which the Borough provides local business the much needed capital to develop and expand in its downtown district. Although new the program as already had success in two businesses: Molly Pitcher Brewing company’s expansion and South Side Deli opening a second location in downtown Carlisle. Even amidst all of these economic plans the Mayor has taken time to consider the need to keep his town beautiful and to that end is working towards Stormwater Park. Keeping in mind the infrastructural needs of Carlisle the Mayor has started plans for a park that while providing some much needed open green space will also help capture water runoff. However, despite all of his success Mayor Scott is keenly aware that not only was this progress was achieved alone, but also it is a long road ahead even with the partnerships he has found so far. With those thoughts in mind anyone seeking to help, contribute, or even just provide input to this endeavor is encouraged to come to the Town Council meeting that is open to the public and held on the second Thursday of every month.