On October 5 in New Kensington, Westmoreland County, PA, a few dozen people came together to explore the potential and possibility that comes with, as the local mayor calls it, a “small, big city” that is ready to redevelop. The Postindustrial Hidden Gems event came with the mission to tell the positive story of this community, changing the perception that has been negative since its decline in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The potential of what is to come was illuminated through the stories shared from various key community leaders. So much is happening… so much hope, so much momentum, so much movement!
With the decline of industry in what is now termed the “rust belt” towns of America, many communities have been left with empty streets and few businesses. When I moved to New Kensington in 2011, I moved to one of these communities that seemingly had little hope! My husband and I moved our family here because we saw potential. We found our dream house fixer-upper project for a very low price. And, we moved to a community with a rich history and a diverse population to raise our multi-racial family.
After moving here, we started Sonward, a non-profit organization that provides youth enrichment for the two neighborhoods that have the highest poverty rates in Westmoreland County. We have invested in the people of the community, bridging people who experience barriers to opportunity which may not have been otherwise accessible to them.
Since 2011, organizations, investors and new residents have come into the community with similar hope and vision for what the community can become.
Penn State – New Kensington has brought programming to develop local entrepreneurs and business owners. They have networked with the city and have a vision for New Kensington to be the model of innovative redevelopment for rustbelt communities through the lens of the coming economy associated with the 4th Industrial Revolution rooted in digital technology. They have named the movement Nextovation and there are many moving parts associated with the redevelopment of New Kensington’s downtown. During a networking presentation that day, Chancellor Kevin Snider from Penn State New Kensington said, “You’re not just investing in a building in New Kensington, you are investing in a movement.”
Redevelopment pioneers like Corey Pistininzi, a local entrepreneur and business owner, bought his home and is raising his family just two blocks from mine. He and his wife own a business and are opening The Bloser Mansion, a historic bed and breakfast. They are also co-investing in an event venue in the near future to further develop the community. They see the hope and are participating in the future of New Kensington.