Dana Shoemaker worked in economic development from Hollidaysburg to Arizona before landing back in her hometown of Philipsburg.
She said it’s more than a job.
“This is the kind of job you put your blood, your sweat, your tears into,” she said. “These communities become like your child. These positions are personal, because it’s not just what you do. You live this.”
Q: How has makeup of Philipsburg changed economically?
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A: There are many small businesses here that have been around for generations. How Philipsburg has changed is like many communities throughout the Appalachians and Pennsylvania. They were founded on resources there, natural resources that were very valuable. In the beginning it was logging with very dense forests. At some point there was the discovery of coal, which was king and drove the entire central and western Pennsylvania economy. As the natural resources dry up, everyone takes what they want and run. The people that stay forge forward and try to keep the local economy developing.
Philipsburg, though, is not unlike any other industrial community. We have big beautiful architecture, homes, but we also struggle to revitalize what we’re left with. So we take what we have and try to match it with economic opportunity.
Q: What was Philipsburg like when you were a child?
A: Oh, everybody in town will tell you how much the streets would be lined with people every Friday. Everyone would come out dressed up, which is not unlike any other community. Everybody has those stories of how it used to be. Now we see and take what we’ve got and say, “OK, what are our challenges?” We’re a bookend to State College, so we have to ask what we need to do to keep as much money in our economy as we can.
Q: Let’s talk about your vision for Philipsburg. Is it to get people to tell those stories again?
A: That’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to get people to relive the things they’ve loved about being here and raising their children. Also, I’m trying to begin new traditions and memories that are current. I want to bring as much money and business here as possible. If we offer it here, keep it here. If you donate to a cause, give it to a local cause. We have to fight to keep every local dollar here and encourage people to come here. We’re trying to take one step at a time to regain a bigger piece of the pie.
Q: What do you feel the challenges are for Philipsburg?
A: Specifically, Philipsburg is a very isolated end of the county. We are sort of, you know, up there, and we’re trying to shake that image. We’re a commutable community and with the mega-highway. We are 15 minutes to the Lowe’s on North Atherton. We’re trying to keep the community and cultural things we love about ourselves, but open the doors for businesses and people. We’re actually working on a campaign for our housing stock — whether you’re renting or owning — that we haven’t rolled out yet, because this is a livable, commutable and a really enjoyable town, and we need to highlight those things.
Q: You put a great deal of emphasis on events to bring people to Philipsburg, right?
A: Yes, that’s one of my major things. We have always had events. We’ve always had parades. We’ve had Heritage Days for a while now, but when I came here I said, “Why can’t we have events that keep our people here, but also give them a chance and people not from Philipsburg a chance to enjoy themselves here?” Four years ago, we did our first Wine Walk, hoping it might work. I printed out 300 tickets at $10 apiece, and Kenny Starr from Starr Hill Winery encouraged me to consider that. Well, we sold out. The next year I printed 500 tickets, and I had nine wineries coming. Last year I printed 700, and we ended up having 900 people with 11 wineries, two brewers and the distillery from Bellefonte. We had people coming from all over. It felt great.
Q: What are some businesses people want in Philipsburg that you don’t have?
A: We have two grocery stores and a liquor store. We have two distributors, (and) like six pizza places. Twisted Vine Winery is coming, which is really cool. What I’m looking for might be different from what some other people might be looking for. I am not looking for a Wal-Mart here. What’s really consumed us recently is the health care sector. We have had almost every major player make a move here.
Also, the senior population drives the local economy here. We want to have more housing that isn’t necessarily low income, but is affordable for people just coming out of college, for families just starting out and more things to do. We were lucky to have Genna Ice buy the bowling alley, which has been closed. It’s one more thing that keeps us here and keeps our money here.
People want to see more places to eat. One unfortunate economic factor is when the commonwealth changed the (Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board) law to allow liquor licenses to transfer from inside a municipality to countywide. State College has consumed every liquor license that would be in Philipsburg. Fortunately, I have 10 special licenses a year to bring events downtown.