The last year hit many people harder than other years past. And possibly even the same can be said for the last decade. From the recent Great Recession to the War on Terror, the past decade challenged Americans in new, previously unseen ways.
But in the face of adversity, great ideas emerge and can blossom if people are willing to tend to them, and with it, the new decade brings the challenge of finding ideas worth cultivating.
For Erie, enter Joel Deuterman, John Elliott, Curtis Jones and Ray Schreckengost, four men who have all fixed their eyes on the city’s future and are ready to work for the harvest, which may even mean looking beyond 2011. From fiber optic broadband to the in-land port, from the community and its citizens to developing the Bayfront, each of these men has a plan that Erie residents can stand behind.
“Fiber empowers the user, and what you do with fiber matters,” are the first words Joel Deuterman, President and CEO of Velocity Network says as his eyes light up from talking about something he sees as the future for this region. Deuterman, whose company provided maintenance but did not own the 50-or-so miles of fiber optic broadband that was brought to Erie in 2004, recently purchased the fiber and has since grown the network to nearly one hundred miles, reaching from the city of Erie to North East to Edinboro.
“Before, when we didn’t control it, it languished. Nothing had really been done with it.” For three years Deuterman tried to convince previous owners to sell him the fiber, which originally came to Erie to interconnect all thirteen Erie school district locations. Finally in July 2010, Velocity was able to purchase the fiber, which gave Deuterman the control he saw necessary to make pertinent updates, which is resulting in fiber growth for the region. When Velocity didn’t own it, fiber builds could take 18 to 24 months because it couldn’t provision them, but now Deuterman believes builds can occur in three months. “We’ve hired all our own staff and have our own equipment. We’re able to do an in-house solution, and we can keep our pricing down since we control it better. So fast delivery, controlled pricing, competitive pricing all speaks to a more rapid fiber deployment and increase of fiber footprint here.” While the average consumer may not see a fiber footprint in his own backyard, he can see it on his path elsewhere. Since fiber is the future, as Deuterman puts it, institutions, such as local hospitals, banks, and schools are investing in this technology, as opposed to the more antiquated copper technology. Copper, as Deuterman points out, is prone to problems, such as the inability to handle inclement weather—something fiber can do.
“We’re 100 percent committed to this resource because we know the value that it brings to this region. Everyone’s waking up to the realization that given what is being demanded of bandwidth and dependability, fiber is really the only choice.”
But while the cost of fiber is coming down, which means that a backyard fiber footprint may not be too far off, the cost of both conduits and pole space where fiber would be found are on the rise due to inflation. But this hasn’t deterred Deuterman.
Because the installation of fiber tends to be too expensive for a single household, Deuterman plans to get fiber to multi-dwelling units first to offset the cost, since an entire apartment complex would split the bill. “We’ve done a lot with fiber, but there’s still a lot more for us to do. We have voice and data products, and we expect to have those in multi-dwelling units this year, and directly, you will see fiber in the home in three years.”
With fiber technology growing, Deuterman plans to reach out to western areas in this region this year. “The plans are there and the resources are there. Everything’s in place.”
So for Erie, a technology that withered for nearly six years is now on the fast track to being a bountiful resource for the area for 2011 and beyond.
Like Deuterman, John Elliott has ideas for the future that reach into 2011 and beyond. President and CEO of the Economic Development Corporation, John Elliott says he’s not really a numbers guy, but he says this after referencing population statistics and production rates of in-land ports in Rotterdam, Netherlands to illustrate how Erie is on the brink of something he thinks will be monumental in the coming years. Other facts and data seamlessly pour out of Elliott’s mouth more quickly and easily and with growing fervor as he continues talking about how the in-land port will benefit the region for years to come, and then suddenly, it’s clear to see that he’s right—he’s not a number’s guy. Instead, he’s a man of words who refuses to let numbers intimidate him away from what he sees as a breakthrough for the region’s industry.
From his comparison of Rotterdam to Erie to his noting of Germany’s rising exporting rate, Elliott’s numbers add up to the notion that the proposed in-land port is really multiple projects organized around a central theme: transportation drives industrial development.
“This is not just about one business park,” Elliott is quick to point out. “We’re in the middle of something that will positively affect the region for decades, not just years.” But for Elliot, that positive effect cannot come quickly enough.
“We need to get out of the funk. We have to break the mindset that this region is only a good place to raise a family and nothing else. The way we break that mindset is to get people to grab onto something. This is more than just a great place to grow a family; it’s a great place to grow a business.”
Because the in-land port would give Erie a means of industrial growth, Elliott sees it as just the thing to break the ho-hum mindset. “We’ve got industrial strength and great location that most people don’t have. We need to get back to capitalizing on our industry. We have a productive region and industrial strength. We have to remember that population doesn’t indicate productivity, which means although we’re a smaller city, we’re not a smaller producer.”
Elliott points out that although the industrial strength of our region currently pales in comparison to our region’s history in terms of employment, the in-land port will, “grow new types of work as well as leverage existing types of work that are going on here.” This, Elliott suggests, will bring back industrial employment, making Erie a larger presence in both the national and international marketplace.
Elliott believes the in-land port will provide the transportation of goods Erie is and will be manufacturing, which harkens to the sustained growth Elliott posits will benefit the region for a longer time than say, a quick fix from a sudden economic boom. “Let’s be real producers, real contributors. That’s what it means to be from Erie: an above average contributor to the national picture for years to come.”
Elliott sees the in-land port making progress in 2011 but recognizes the organic nature of the project, which means the work will continue beyond this next year. Elliott sees the longevity of this project as a strength. “We’re working toward something resilient against recession.”
As Elliott continues discussions with key investors and businesses, the in-land port, which would occupy some two-hundred acres between Conneaut, OH and Erie, serves as hope for the area to shake the recession dust off its shoulders as it readies for the work ahead.
“We have to ask ourselves: what is hope? Hope is the anticipation of future blessings, and faith is acting on that hope. More often than not, if you can anticipate future blessings, which is hope, and act on them, that’s success. That’s the in-land port. Other people are catching the momentum, and we’re motivating the community.”
Like Elliott, City Councilman Curtis Jones wants to motivate the community, and he sees this as his goal for 2011. “There’s a lot of untapped potential in our community. All of the pieces are here but not put together.”
Jones wants to be the person to put those pieces together since he sees himself in a prime position to do so. “We need to work together and be intentional to make this a better region. I can bridge the gulf between those looking for jobs and those looking to develop projects leading to potential jobs. Not only is knowledge power, proper knowledge is power.”
Serving a second term, Jones expects more from himself this year and beyond since he sees that the region is in need. “I spent some time learning the ropes, so to speak, learning who to go to with different needs, and now that I know that, I want to empower people to maximize their best and reach their highest level of potential.” Now that Jones has learned the channels, he’s ready to swim, and he sees this as a way he can serve as the medium between those needing jobs and those needing people to fill future roles. But Jones expects others to accept the challenges to comes as well.
“2011 is going to be very challenging. This is going to be a time for us to tap into another level of our creativity. I think a lot of us have great ideas but don’t take the steps to make them a reality. I think this is the time we’re going to have to start making things real and move from having conversations about it to getting out and actually doing it.”
Jones sees hope for the area if he focuses energy on more than just making connections between people with jobs and people in need of jobs. He also wants to focus on education and poverty.
“We have great colleges in the area, so why not have college students volunteer even more in the community? Some of the kids here need that exposure. Interaction and exposure can lead to fellowship, and our community needs that.”
In addition to more educational avenues, which Jones doesn’t just see as something for the youth, he sees poverty throughout the city, but not just economic poverty. Poverty of spirit, as Jones puts it, is something he wants to turn his attention to this year.
“We need to challenge ourselves to broaden our concepts. There are successful individuals here. We need to turn our attention to that.”
Jones sees this as the escape from this poverty of spirit. “Air doesn’t separate, it just flows. It doesn’t have boundaries, so we need to recognize we’re beyond boundaries too. Pittsburgh Avenue doesn’t keep air from floating across it so it shouldn’t separate us. We can’t think like that.”
Jones recognizes the area's growth and thinks the community can find strength and identity there. “Millions of dollars are being given for growth and expansion. People are doing well. We need to get people to recognize their successes as well as their opportunities.”
Director of the Erie Port Authority Ray Schreckengost sees some of the Port Authority’s plans this year as a means for bringing people together more easily. “Right now there’s no way to get off the Bluff and come over to Liberty Park.” Schreckengost says the Port Authority plans to work on the Bluff this summer, which will be a noticeable change for Erie. “Residents up on the Bluff, which is a good-sized neighborhood with limited pedestrian access, will soon have good pedestrian access.”
Public access to the Bayfront with the extension of the Bayfront Promenade as well as work on the park-and-ride lot at 12th Street and Lincoln Avenue will receive attention. Erie residents will also notice construction taking place around State Street as the Port Authority plans to replace the bridge where State Street begins—a project expected to begin this spring and be completed by August.
Schreckengost also noted that Erie’s shipyard will undergo repairs, which will benefit the roof and ventilation systems. With about 165 employees, Schreckengost wants to keep the facility running as smoothly as possible.
As the city saw the addition of a rail line to the shipyard last year, Schreckengost says the Port Authority’s now in the second phase of that project and plans to access the north-end of the building with the rail line.
While Erie residents can again look forward to the Eight Great Tuesday series, featuring a line-up of bands that will be set later this month, they’ll have to wait until 2012 for another taste of the Tall Ships Festival. “We’re going to be gearing up and beginning to plan Tall Ships 2012-2013, which will be a major celebration with the War of 1812’s bi-centennial.”
Schreckengost does hope to bring the winter maintenance aspect of the shipyard back to life this year. ”The economic impact to Erie is really great in the winter time, which obviously during the winter, is the water’s down time. What happens when the ships come in for winter repair, they send a crew with them. The crew goes uptown to rent motel rooms and stays here for a month or two and spends money, and of course, the repairs benefit the local economy, so bringing the ships in for the winter layup, which we haven’t done much in the recent year, is an important economic impact to the city.”
But much like any project, Schreckengost recognizes the limitations of both budget and time. “We’re looking to continue building out what we have in our long-range plan every summer and the construction season is to continue to peck away at it. You’re never going to get it all done at the same time, but we’re trying not to have a dead summer where we don’t have anything. We want to continue to move forward.”
But the recognition of the limitations time and budgets impose isn’t specific just to the Port Authority’s summer plans. Any plans the city has in the year to come will take time and effort, which means that as we turn the corner and approach this new decade, residents will have to be patient as well as participatory in the process. As Jones put it, “A community is only as strong as the people in it and can only be as successful as the people in it, and we are successful people and we need to see that.”
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