URBN goes rural in Indiana County

Windy Ridge Business & Technology Park, site of planned URBN Inc. “fulfillment center,” White Township. Pa., Dec. 30, 2018. Photo by David Loomis.

A review

By David Loomis

INDIANA – The top local news story of 2018, according to the staff at The Indiana Gazette, was September’s “arrival” here in rural Appalachia of URBN, corporate parent to Urban Outfitters Inc., a multinational hipster-lifestyle retailer headquartered in Philadelphia.

Given prevailing uncertainties, “arrival” may be a bit premature. URBN has not yet opened its local doors. True, it closed on a couple hundred acres for $5.58 million and it broke ground on a $30 million “fulfillment center” (aka “warehouse”) at the intersection of state Route 286 and U.S. Route 422 in White Township. That’s the site of the county’s Windy Ridge industrial development park that hitherto had attracted one tenant in eight years.

The URBN development is understandably promising. Promoters pledge jobs – 600 to build the place and 225 to operate it when it plans to open for business later this year, they say.

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For-sale signs: the borough’s bumper crop

House for sale, Indiana borough, Pa., Dec. 19, 2018. Photo by David Loomis.

By the numbers: an analysis

By David Loomis

INDIANA – It’s hard to avoid divisive political talk around the dinner table during the holiday season. Football? Beware: Taking a knee.  The weather? Careful: Climate change.

But consider local housing: Here in the borough, a bumper crop of front-yard for-sale signs is a good bet for broad agreement.

“It’s the most for-sale signs I’ve ever seen here,” six-term borough Mayor George Hood said in a Dec. 20 phone interview. “And I’ve been here a long, long, long, long time.”

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IUP enrollment, borough policing

Indiana, Pa., police Chief William C. Sutton, borough police department, Dec. 7, 2018. Photo by David Loomis.

By the numbers

By David Loomis

INDIANA – In March 2012, IUPatty’s was born as a boozy, unsanctioned, St. Patrick’s Day bash organized by and for undergraduates at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. The event coincided with the largest enrollment in the school’s history,  when IUP admitted 15,379 students, doubling the borough’s year-round resident population.

In October 2013, Homecoming “rowdiness” prompted borough councilwoman Nancy Jones to campaign for re-election on a platform of controlling students who annually mobbed her Fisher Avenue neighborhood near the IUP campus. She won re-election and the council presidency. Student enrollments began to tip down.

In March 2014, IUPatty’s turned violent. The local daily described it as a “massive, uncontrolled mob scene that dominated social media.”  IUP enrollments continued to drop.

For IUPatty’s 2017, police reported two shootings that left one dead and three wounded.

But by IUPatty’s 2018, the event was mostly peaceful and non-newsworthy. Enrollment had declined by more than a quarter in six years.

Enrollment declines at IUP – with no end yet in sight — are “the main reason” for a broad decline in borough crime stats during the academic year’s two big party weekends, borough police Chief William C. Sutton said during interviews in his office on Dec. 7 and 11.

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‘Year of the Woman’ in Western Pennsylvania

Candidates Kerith Strano Taylor, right, and Susan Boser, center, discuss their unsuccessful 2018 “Year of the Woman” campaigns in and around Indiana County. Their Dec. 7 interview with David Loomis, editor of The HawkEye, left, will air on IUP-TV this coming week. Photo and video by Alan Craigie.

The HawkEye interview

By David Loomis

INDIANA – In federal and state elections, 2018 was the Year of the Woman 2.0.

Except here.

On Nov. 6, Susan Boser, of Indiana, an IUP sociology professor, lost by 62-38 percent to five-term incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson in the newly redrawn, 14-county 15th Congressional District. Kerith Strano Taylor, a Brookville attorney, lost by 80-20 percent to two-term incumbent Republican state Rep. Cris Dush in the 66th state House District.

Republican winner Jim Struzzi, of Indiana, who will fill the state House seat vacated by state Rep. Dave Reed, Republican of Indiana, wrote in a Nov. 27 email that the party resonated with local voters.

“I think the results show that people like the direction we are moving in and trust experienced, proven leaders to make the right decisions,” Struzzi wrote.

Elsewhere, not so much.

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Here comes the sun

An analysis

By David Loomis

INDIANA – A front-page story in The Indiana Gazette on Sunday reported on this year’s local weather. Slow news day? Hardly. The story was about a superlative – wettest on record in Indiana County.

“Through Saturday, more than 65 inches of rain had fallen, which is almost 2 feet above the normal average of 42 inches,” the story reported.

That’s a 55 percent increase above average annual local rainfall. And that’s a record, the story reported.

If the superlative prompted contemplation of climate change, that would be understandable. The previous day’s front page included a wire story headlined, “Government climate report warns of worsening U.S. disasters.”

Aside from the new report’s origins in the Trump administration, its findings are discouragingly familiar. Among the chillingly accurate predictions in a 2014 edition of the same periodic report were wildfires in dry regions and torrential downpours in wet regions. Like here.

The new climate report added dire economic predictions that appear to be accurate already in Western Pennsylvania. Rick Ebert, a Westmoreland County dairy farmer since 1982 and president of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, recently told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that 2018 is “probably the worst year that I’ve ever seen,” mostly due to the record rains.

Yet another discouragingly familiar climate-science development was Donald Trump’s refusal on Monday to believe any of it.

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Burrell Township’s missing link

Artist rendering of proposed pedestrian and bicycle bridge over U.S. Routes 22 and 119 at Blairsville, Pa.

An opinion

By David Loomis

INDIANA – When it comes to a decade-long plan to build a roughly $3 million bridge to bear bike and foot traffic safely above busy U.S. routes 119 and 22 at Blairsville, supervisors of neighboring Burrell Township see something that apparently has eluded every other local official:

  • it would be unsafe
  • it would be shunned by citizens
  • it would be a waste of taxpayer money

So summarized Burrell board of supervisors Chairman Larry Henry in a Nov. 21 phone interview from his township office. He added that the proposed bike-and-hike-bridge project was frivolous.

“This is just for play,” Henry said in a Nov. 21 phone interview from his township office. “It doesn’t help anybody, you understand?”

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Election 2018: a youth wave at IUP

IUP Graduate Student Assembly members distribute voter-registration information outside the campus library, Sept. 25, 2018. Photo by Nedrick Patrick.

By Nathan Zisk and David Loomis

INDIANA – Local election returns show that Indiana University of Pennsylvania students generated a youth wave in Indiana County’s Nov. 6 balloting, a local political activist said.

The university’s two polling places are Pratt and Zink halls, at opposite ends of the campus. Voters on Nov. 6 cast a combined total of 931 ballots – 331 at Pratt and 600 at Zink. The county supervises 69 voting precincts countywide.

“Turnout on IUP’s campus was double the number of four years ago,” Eric M. Barker, chair of Indiana VIE, a local political action committee, said Sunday in a phone interview.

The 2014 election also recorded higher turnout at the two campus voting precincts, said Barker, who helped organize voter-registration initiatives on campus this fall.

Barker attributed heightened student participation to “the national environment” and to unprecedented campus support for student voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives.

“2018 was the first year of institutional support for the university,” said Barker, who has compiled countywide voting data since the 2004 election year. “This is the first year for a coordinated campaign. There was a lot of support.”

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Incumbent trivializing of the 2018 election

An Opinion

By David Loomis

INDIANA – The campaign lacked substantive issues, despite a national agenda begging for debate and action. Polls showed the Republican candidate was not very popular.

 His supporters decided to go negative with an attack ad featuring a convicted felon. The GOP candidate, joined by media, focused the negative ad around public safety and criminal justice.

Mugshot of convicted felon Willie Horton, drawn from 1988 campaign attack ad.

And, not so subtly, around race. The televised ad showed the convicted felon, a minority, in a mugshot. News media played the attack ad as a central issue in the campaign.

The year was 1988. The Republican candidate was George H.W. Bush.  The felon was William R. “Willie” Horton.

Among Americans of a certain age, “Willie Horton” ranks among the most hate- and fear-mongering political ads in modern American history.

The 1988 election was widely criticized as trivial. In addition to Willie Horton, the campaign focused on the Pledge of Allegiance. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union was collapsing and the Cold War was ending.

In reaction, some reformers in the press proposed a new kind of journalism – public journalism. As it was practiced in subsequent elections, public journalism wrestled the agenda away from politicians and vested it with citizens, aided by the press,

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Trick or treating the property tax

An Opinion

By David Loomis

INDIANA – ‘Tis the season — Halloween’s coincidence with midterm elections. Trick or treat?

This week, consider Donald Trump, who managed to freak out members of his own party with his Tuesday remarks about birthright citizenship, a 14th Amendment constitutional guarantee that he proposed to revoke with a stroke of the presidential pen.

Trick!

Last week, Trump’s off-the-cuff treat was a pocketbook issue — to enact a 10 percent tax cut aimed at middle-class citizens and to manage it before next week’s midterm elections. More freak-out: Elementary civics says under the Constitution, Congress controls the purse strings, so tax cuts require congressional action. But Congress is not in session and won’t reconvene until after the Nov. 6 election.

Trick!

 

SUCH TRICK-OR-TREATING has crept into Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial campaign between Republican legislator Scott Wagner and Democratic incumbent Gov. Tom Wolf. In a new campaign ad, Wagner promised, “[W]hen I’m governor, I’ll eliminate the school taxes on your home.”

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A vigil in Indiana for Pittsburgh

Indiana County Courthouse, Oct. 28, 2018. Photos by Anthony Frazier. Click to enlarge.

INDIANA — On Sunday morning, the word spread on social media: “Vigil for the tragedy in Pittsburgh at 7 pm on the Courthouse steps. Spread the word.”

The call echoed in communities around the country.

In Indiana, Pa., hundreds heeded it. In a cold rain, they lit and re-lit candles, sang hymns and recited prayers led by attorney Jay Rubin, other members of Beth Israel Synagogue, members of other local faith communities and neighbors drawn to a show of solidarity against hate.

 

One link between Indiana and Pittsburgh is Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s perennial hosting of Holocaust survivor Moshe Baran, author of an anti-hate blog Language Can Kill: Messages of Genocide, sponsored by the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh.

Last night in Indiana, Christ Episcopal Church minister William Geiger opened the 20-minute event, connected the communities’ links and closed with thanks for all who attended.

Photos by Anthony Frazier. Story by David Loomis.

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