The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

June 17, 2012

Eric Knopsnyder | A reason for optimism in Johnstown

Eric Knopsnyder

— Johnstown got some good news in last Sunday’s editions of The Tribune-Democrat.

A study by Lumos Labs of San Francisco found that the Johnstown/Altoona metro area was the eighth-smartest nationwide.

It was a story that seemed to draw an almost identical reaction: “What? Seriously? That can’t be right, can it?”

It’s not hard to understand the region’s incredulity. If there is one thing this region lacks above all others it’s self-esteem.

There are plenty of reasons for that. When your city is best known for devastating natural disasters and an industry that died out decades ago it’s not always easy to look at the positive.

Unflattering terms such as “Rustbelt” and “brain drain” combined with the distressed-city status that has hovered over Johnstown for nearly 20 years don’t make for a flattering self-portrait.

As negative as that image can be, it doesn’t compare to the one that some former Johnstown residents are so quick to convey with posts on The Tribune-Democrat’s website.

Any story that sheds an unfavorable light on the city – whether it is about the economy, local government or even the weather – seems to induce a string of comments such as “That’s why I left Johnstown.”

It’s amazing that the people who claim to be so glad to be out of this neck of the woods find it necessary to continually check back in to see what’s happening here. Those who don’t like it here are free to seek greener pastures, but why should they feel the need to gloat about how much better their lives are elsewhere?

There are plenty of us who like it here. Our families, often, are here. Our friends are here. We’ve got roots and we like our communities.

And, believe it or not, there are many who yearn to return here.

I have a friend who has a great job in New York City working for ESPN. For a sports junkie and media member, that should be the thrill of a lifetime. But she’s quick to point out that it’s not home. New York might be the “City That Never Sleeps,” but, for her, that can’t compete with Johnstown’s motto of “Friendly, Safe and Clean.”

Another 30-something professional who grew up around here is eager to relocate to Johnstown from Pittsburgh.

He told me that, while driving into the city, he was hit with a wave of nostalgia. For him, heading into Johnstown on Route 56 always brought a little extra excitement because it brought back memories of concerts at Cambria County War Memorial Arena or sporting events at Point Stadium.

 Those two examples, both of which were brought to my attention in the past week, along with the Lumos study, show that there is still reason for optimism in Johnstown.

It’s not all doom and gloom.

The study shows that we do have some great minds here and anecdotal evidence proves that some of those who have left the area are eager to return. Don’t believe me? Just count the number of times someone says “I miss Johnstown,” during the upcoming Thunder in the Valley events.

So we have a critical resource – bright people who want to be here. We just have to figure out how to best make use of that resource.

And now we know we have the minds to do just that.

Eric Knopsnyder is editor of The Tribune-Democrat.

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