Lancaster County, PA is known for a lot of things: the quiet presence of the Amish community, its hundreds of years of history as a hub of commerce, and an amazing amount of snack food production, just to name a few. Now, Lancaster city, the county seat, has been named an “e-city” by Google, and the “digital capital” of Pennsylvania.
Building on its reputation as a trend-setter, the tech giant is now putting together lists of the top places in each U.S. state to pursue business online. In 2014, Lancaster city replaced Exton, PA, as the state’s “digital capital.”
How did Lancaster edge out much larger centers of population such as Pittsburgh and Philadelphia?
Google’s survey methodology took a random sample of businesses to analyze their commitment to e-commerce and online presence, while also taking a look at population and technology demographics in key zip codes.
Government and Business Leaders Respond
“Let’s put it this way,” said Lancaster’s mayor Rick Gray in a WGAL news piece announcing Lancaster’s win. “I’m excited but not surprised.”
Highlighting centerpieces of Lancaster’s tech business infrastructure, WGAL’s Mike Straub also talked to Marcus Grimm at Nxtbook Media, a company that handles web presence and development for clients all over the world.
“The reason we started here is the reason we’re still here.” Grimm said. “It’s the quality of life and the quality of people that we’ve found here.”
Grimm also pointed to the initiative that local businesses have taken to get online; from local independent booksellers and fledgling food service businesses, to tech startups thriving in corners of the city, Lancaster’s downtown scene is getting wired, or wireless, for the new millennium. Although efforts to create city-wide wi-fi have been obstructed by the same industry forces that depress this innovation everywhere else in the country, other improvements, such as web sites for city events, have added to the online panache of a quite modern city, albeit one that’s still tied quite tightly to its past.
And the work isn’t over yet, according to Tom Baldrige, president & CEO of The Lancaster Chamber of Commerce & Industry.
“Being recognized as a tech hub has tremendous opportunities for Lancaster County businesses and the broader community.” Baldrige said Sept. 4. “Technology enables us to be more competitive and attract and retain companies of all sizes and industries, which adds to our economic growth and quality of life. Our enhanced tech presence is helping our community foster innovative ideas and further collaborations among business professionals and organizations. The opportunities afforded to our community through technology are limitless and position Lancaster County as a place where people want to live, work and do business.”
A New Look
Just a walk around the city shows that something is at work in the local economy. In recent years, a towering Marriott has replaced the old Watt and Shand façade at the city’s central Penn Square, as part of an ambitious convention center projects bringing crowds downtown. Other blocks now house modern lofts, new restaurants, and offices where, behind the scenes, young professionals do more of that “e-work” that helped Lancaster to garner last year’s award. However, the bottom line is that, unlike other kinds of development, e-commerce is practically invisible from the street level. Google’s annual awards give us a new way to assess our local economies and see where digital commerce is really growing.