In this time of recession and cutting back, blue collars are in. Witness the explosion of Scranton—known in certain circles as the new Peoria—which is embracing its hardscrabble image. And its getting embraced right back.
WSJ: “Scranton has become the poster boy for small-town blue-collar America,” says Austin J. Burke, president of the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce.
This month, “Saturday Night Live” parodied the tendency of Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden to invoke his hard-scrabble childhood here. “Don’t be telling me that I’m part of the Washington elite, because I come from the absolute worst place on Earth: Scranton, Pennsylvania,” said SNL’s Jason Sudeikis, playing Sen. Biden. “It’s a hellhole! It is just an awful, awful sad place filled with sad, desperate people with no ambition!”
But life in Scranton is more nuanced than the cliché of a once-powerful industrial centre in decline. The population here is growing for the first time in 60 years, following a decades-long exodus that halved the city to barely 70,000 people. Its architecturally distinctive downtown, long vacant, is undergoing a dramatic renovation. And tourism is spiking, thanks in no small part to “The Office,” NBC’s hit show about the Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin, a fictional New York-based paper company. The century-old “Electric City” sign — dark for decades — shines again above the town square.
There’s a distinctly white-collar movement behind Scranton’s comeback. A return of college-educated natives from cities like New York and Philadelphia is fueling a population rise and a civic makeover. Bringing them back are the very small-town qualities many once wanted to escape: the likelihood of meeting acquaintances and relatives on the streets. The embrace here of modest ambition. The deeply held belief — only heightened by ridicule from the outside world — that Scranton matters.
Of course, a long-term downturn in the U.S. economy could thwart Scranton’s revival, making employment here harder yet to come by. But hard times also tend to increase the appeal of small-town life, in part because of costs. Scranton sits only two hours from Philadelphia and New York City, yet has a median house value of less than $120,000, about $20,000 below the national average.
“I didn’t appreciate what Scranton had to offer until I left,” says Michele Dempsey, a 36-year-old University of Pennsylvania-trained architect who worked for nationally renowned firms in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., before coming home five years ago.
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