Frustrating job options and limited internet providers are key factors in Lycoming County’s population decline as young people become more apt to move away, county officials say.
“I’ve always loved the area and I enjoyed the work I did here, but there are only so many opportunities in Williamsport,” said Yanni Pashakis, 24, of Muncy, who recently moved to Harrisburg for a job with a statewide business journal. “With the work that I do, I had one great job I could take in Williamsport after college and if I wanted to challenge myself and make more money, I had to move. It’s that simple.”
The county’s population has slipped from a peak of 120,000 in the early 2000s to about 113,000 and some primary causes seem to point to poor job opportunities and a lack of broadband internet access, said Fran McJunkin, deputy director of county Planning and Community Development.
“We have lost probably about 6,000 or 7,000 total,” McJunkin said, adding she expects the numbers to continue to decline.
A ‘frustrating’ job market
Low-paying jobs or entry-level positions can be frustrating for young people just out of college, especially if they are looking for something outside of the manufacturing field, said James Haywood, business and marketing consultant at PA Careerlink Lycoming and Clinton Counties.
“By talking to some of the young people who have come into our office looking for jobs … some of them are frustrated with the area because of the types of jobs that employers are looking for,” Haywood said.
Stigma surrounding manufacturing jobs seems to be behind some of the exodus, he said, explaining they are often viewed as dirty, monotonous jobs.
But for a few local manufacturers, the stigma may be misplaced, Haywood said, adding that PMF Industries has worked hard to present a clean and non-repetitive environment.
“Because the area is built around manufacturing, I think younger people have a perception of manufacturing that just isn’t the case anymore, for at least some of the companies in the area,” Haywood said. “PMF is leading the forefront to showcase their company to high schools” and other manufacturers are working to change their image as well.
‘Plenty of jobs’
Grow Lycoming – a new endeavor by the Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce – is aimed at gathering information about what young people in the area enjoy and what they want to see more of, said Jason Fink, CEO and president of the chamber.
“We’ve got plenty of jobs, it’s about not being able to make folks aware that we have a great community here,” Fink said.
Local resources seems to be growing, Fink said, but often it’s difficult for young people to find out about them.
Since its inception at the beginning of the year, Grow Lycoming has worked with focus groups in the area to determine what aspects of the community may be keeping young people here, Fink said. He added that the goal of the chamber will be to expand on these resources and help spread the word through social media.
It’s tough to find out what we have here,” he said. “We’ve got to put more resources into that.”
But it’s not just the poor job selection that makes it hard for people to stay, according to Chelsea Blair, hazard mitigation officer for the county. A lack of broadband options also is a key factor.
“People do want the accessibility to be able to work their jobs in a remote location,” Blair said. “Broadband is definitely an issue.”
McJunkin said she sees the broadband shortcoming as an infrastructural dilemma.
While urban areas of the county, such as Williamsport, Loyalsock Township and Montoursville, have a couple of provider options, rural areas still are lacking.
“We define infrastructure as roads, bridges, levee and internet,” McJunkin said, hoping that state or federal funds may be available to turn the broadband trend.
A positive future
In spite of the population decrease, Williamsport and Lycoming County have more to offer than many realize.
In addition to efforts by the chamber to increase the marketability of the county, Blair said local colleges and organizations are working together as well.
A number of projects that have been up to 20 years in the making are coming to fruition now, such as the East End Gateway Project between the city and Lycoming College, Blair said.
She added that she expects many new changes in the county over the next 10 years.
“It’s a very exciting time here,” Blair said.
Pashakis, a Muncy native who recently worked in Williamsport, said he is interested in moving back to the area, but with new skills he has learned in Harrisburg.
“That could be what we will see in the coming years – young people going to college, getting their first jobs but then coming back to Williamsport because there’s a charm there they couldn’t find elsewhere,” Pashakis said.
Williamsport is not the same place it was 10 years ago, Haywood said. The downtown area has been revitalized and while there is a romanticized allure for the opportunities provided in big cities, most of those amenities can be found in Williamsport as well.
“We’re in a really interesting time right now, here in Williamsport,” Blair said. “What we are starting to see is a cohesive community.”