Micah Gursky on economic development incentives, pessimism and “The Grapes of Wrath”

    Micah Gursky is the director at Tamaqua Area Community Partnership and the borough council president in Tamaqua, Schuylkill County.

    “Five Questions with …” is a regular Keystone Crossroads feature where we seek to glean wisdom and ideas from some of Pennsylvania’s top urban thinkers and doers. Micah Gursky is the director at Tamaqua Area Community Partnership and the borough council president in Tamaqua, Schuylkill County. 

    Tell us about an amenity or service that you’ve seen in your travels to other places that you wish you could bring back to your city/community?

    Overnight accommodations – a hotel, motel, an Inn or bed and breakfast. And we have special financial incentives in place—like the City Revitalization & Investment Zone, also known as CRIZ, to help a developer who wants to invest in Tamaqua. We just need to find someone who believes in Tamaqua as much as we do.

    What’s one urban improvement idea that you could categorize as “nice try but didn’t work”?

    We once tried to organize a “Tomorrow’s Tamaqua Today” group of young professionals living in our community as a way to network and energize them and also to let them know that they are not the only young people in the community. A few meetings were held but it fizzled. Turns out it takes more than a common age and geographic location to get people to want to hang out and work together. Nice idea, but it didn’t work.

    Describe a person in your community who is a “spark” — someone who seems to get things done and inspire people. (This does not need to be an elected official.)

    Andrew Leibenguth is an amazing man. He is like Tamaqua’s superhero—he’s everywhere, he’s tireless and helps people. He gives “do-gooders” a good name. He has dedicated himself to promoting Tamaqua on his website TamaquaArea.com where he single-handedly captures the most important community moments and events and reports them free of charge. In addition to this, he is a tireless volunteer—when he organizes an annual parade-in-your-undergarments-to-raise-awareness-for-bringing-pets-indoors-during-cold-weather, he gets so many people to come out and help. People love him and he inspires us. He started the Tamaqua Volunteers group that does river cleanup and other projects. He also runs a “community giveaway,” where people donate items and then those items are given away to people in the community. Andy is just a tireless worker and people rally around him because of his energy and selflessness.

    What flaw or habit does your city/community have that you would like to see change?

    We are so frickin pessimistic! We are in the habit of quickly pointing out or focusing on the negative things—in our community, our lives, the weather, you name it. If someone or something is successful, we are immediately suspicious and if something goes wrong we are quick to say “I knew it!” or “I told you so!” Boy, would I like that to change . . . but perhaps we are just doomed to pessimism. 😉 Seriously, though, I’d like everyone to be in the habit of patting each other on the back and offering words of encouragement.

    Tell us about a movie or book that depicts, in a way that grabbed your attention, how a city can thrive or fail.

    The most captivating depiction of a city—or town–failing is “The Grapes of Wrath,” about Sallisaw, Oklahoma, a dust-bowl farming town. The image of the wind, dust and devastation is powerful. It is hard to imagine so much dust and despair that the sun, the crops and all hope just disappears. People are helpless and almost everyone leaves—some for better, some for worse. It makes me think of our towns today—including my hometown where people can feel helpless or feel like there’s so much that is out of their control. Many people have left searching for those fertile valleys. Some find it and some don’t. But whether someone stays or leaves a place like that, they have a remarkable strength and resiliency.

    Tamaqua’s “dust-bowl” hit over three or four generations, not three or four years, and it’s nice to see it finally settling and the sky looking a little brighter.

    Is there someone you know who thinks hard about cities and knows how to get things done? Someone whom Keystone Crossroads should spend “Five Questions with …”. Please let us know in the comment sections below, via Twitter @Pacrossroads, or on Facebook.

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