Kittanning, Pennsylvania is small (just under 5,000 people) and many of its residents are struggling (more than 16 percent live below the poverty line). Perhaps most frustrating for its population, though, is that Kittanning, though it’s picturesque, near a major city (Pittsburgh), and generally full of untapped potential, it seemed to be in stasis. So one resident decided to get things moving.
“We’ve gotten tired of nothing positive happening in our town for years,” explains Kittanning resident Mike Rizzo, “So we’re trying to make some things happen.”
Rizzo is not in government (or anti-government). He doesn’t work in town planning or development. He’s just a concerned citizen, a guy full of hope for his town—so much so that he launched his own crowdsourcing site, Refresh Kittanning, in hopes of inspiring economic development and entrepreneurship in his community. Locals—or anyone with the inclination to help—can log on to share their ideas on economic development for the region, which will, Rizzo hopes, help foster business from within and attract outside investors to this “great place to live and work.”
With the combination of declining industry, rapidly changing technologies, and the ever-increasing need for new and different skills, small cities and towns across the country are struggling to find a new purpose and identity. In Kittanning, very little new development has occurred over the past few decades, and says Rizzo, “The town needs to recharge and do something to help ignite growth. Many of the older buildings could make awesome storefronts and there are tons of great homes which offer an almost unbeatable value. I believe if the right couple of businesses or entrepreneurs moved in, it would create a positive domino effect.”
In the same vein as broader national efforts like CEOs for Cities’ Give a Minute, Refresh Kittanning presents a featured topic for public comment and then works to use those ideas to change the status quo. Says Rizzo, “Our local government hasn’t done much to inspire growth [so] the timing is perfect for this. There are a ton of smart people in our community with great ideas but there really wasn’t a forum to connect people.”
Now that there is, Rizzo and his colleagues, who range from development groups to local businesses and government officials, hope entrepreneurs will recognize and act on the needs and wants of the community. The Refresh Kittanning site has been live since November 2010, and so far, the ideas that have risen to the top include a coffee shop, vintage stores, a park, or a bank, but perhaps most revolutionary for the town would be the creation of several tech incubators, a move made simpler by the town’s inexpensive rents and readily available housing.
“The more responses we get, the more powerful every idea on the site becomes,” Rizzo explains. “We’re not a venture capital organization, and all we can do at the moment is to provide a platform to share ideas and promote business. We want to help give that little extra push to get ideas rolling.”