I was invited in April to give a paid book talk here in Lancaster, and I was so blown away by the societal innovation the town’s leaders had employed to rebuild their once-struggling city and county that I decided to return with my reporter’s notebook and interview them.
.. Greater Lancaster is a microcosm of America. The city has a population of 60,000, about 40 percent of whom are white, 40 percent Latino — mostly Puerto Ricans whose parents came decades ago to process chickens.
.. Unwilling to let their hometown die a slow death, and fed up with weak municipal politicians, Mann and other civic leaders “got together in my living room” to become catalysts for change. “Our first insight was that leadership matters” — and if it wasn’t going to come from the politicians, then it would come from them — and it would be devoid of party politics.
.. “We found that people who were responsible for key parts of the city, business and government had never met each other,” said Mann. “They were all in their own silos, and we — Hourglass — were neutral, so we could get them together.”
.. When a leader from York told him: “Ray, you know, we take care of our own. We’re doing things our way,” D’Agostino responded, “Maybe that’s part of the problem.”
.. locate the stadium in the city’s northwest corridor in 2005. Recalled Mann: “I went to opening night and sat next to people from suburbia and they said, ‘Wow, I can’t believe I’m in Lancaster.’”
.. Hourglass, and other groups provided the funds so public officials and the private sector could learn from the best experts in the world on how to lift their city and businesses. These included bringing in the mayor of Charleston, S.C., Joseph Riley, to explain how to build a thriving downtown; Edward Deming to teach quality improvement strategies; and an urban development expert from Brookings, Christopher Leinberger, to help create a long-term growth vision for the city and county. They’ve even looked to Denmark for insights.
.. found the hunger for best practices profound. “There is an awareness that all good ideas don’t start here,”
.. Gray, with the help of Leinberger, started by drawing up a long-term revitalization plan, which he carried around on a small note card every day to make sure every decision aligned with it.
..Gray told me he once remarked to F&M’s president, “You want to make Lancaster a place where students want to come and I want to make it a place where graduates want to stay.”
.. he forged a quiet partnership with Lloyd Smucker, a Republican who was then a state senator, to establish a community reinvestment zone that created the income stream to pay off the bonds needed to fund the convention center. “That was because Smucker and I could work together,” said Gray. “You get an awful lot done if you don’t worry who gets credit.”
.. Part of Gray’s strategic plan was also to bring public art into the city. “Art makes people feel better about themselves and their communities,” he told me, “so we made a huge push for public art
.. The unemployment rate in Lancaster County is 3.3 percent while in the city it’s over 10 percent. And while some 30 percent of the city lives below the poverty line, it reaches 50 percent in some of the poorest neighborhoods.