When Shamokin Mayor John Brown is asked about what role the government plays in helping a town to recover economically, his answer is relatively straight forward.
“I think it’s about playing a supportive role,” he said. “Government in and of itself is not designed to drive business. Business owners run their business, and we try to support them however we can.”
The realistic and simplistic approach to driving business is paying dividends, evidenced by the recent AOAA Ice Breaker ride, where over 400 registered riders helped stimulate area businesses in Shamokin and Coal Township. Both municipalities worked with the AOAA to help permit the ATVs to drive on area roads legally.
“That’s something we recently talked about at one of the SABER (Shamokin Area Businesses for Economic Revitalization) meetings,” Brown said. “They said, ‘Hey, you need to get people to be able to drive on the streets,’ and the next meeting we were meeting with Dave Porzi and we figured out a way to work with the AOAA.
Brown said the initiative, one of many the city has worked on, came at a price, with many residents expressing displeasure at the sight, and sound, of off-road vehicles on city streets.
“But at the same time, with the businesses it has been a major boost,” he said. “I think over time, when we get the events to be a bit more seamless it will be more accepted. But, there will always be a group of people who are against it.”
He compared the backlash to that of the AOAA opening in May 2014, which drew criticism from many area residents, a reaction which has since quieted down considerably.
“These people coming into the area are spending a lot of money in our businesses,” Brown said. “You can’t deny that.”
THE LIGHTER SIDE
Brown said he has put an emphasis on welcoming new businesses to the city and promoting the municipality in any way possible.
Sometimes, that means working with business owners to help increase the economy of the city, while in other cases it is as simple as bringing a gift basket to a new operation.
“Since I took over as Mayor in January, we started giving baskets to new businesses in the area,” he said. “We will put in a bottle of wine from Firehouse Winery or Sweet Ali’s Fudge (both Shamokin businesses) — just pick something small to say thank you for putting the business in the city. Then we do a write up and send it to The News-Item and try to sponsor the new business as much as we can.”
Brown said the city’s current business focus is on the possibility of bringing a hotel to Shamokin, which he feels would not be a possibility without the strides the AOAA has made in the last five years.
“I met with (those doing the hotel study) two weeks ago and they’ve been going around regularly to businesses and trying to figure out where the city stands,” he explained. “They’re compiling the data right now and will then go back to New York to work on the data they’ve collected.”
Brown said he feels the health of the area has gotten stronger in recent years and he expects more of the same in the future, a process he outlined in detail at the recent State of the City meeting.