According to the United States Census Bureau, Pennsylvania's population was estimated as 12,071,842 in 1995, ranking it fifth nationally, with 68.9% urbanized and 31.1% rural, and making it the 25th most urbanized state (Pennsylvania pp). Since 1980, the population growth pattern has been one of increases in the eastern border counties other, rather than Philadelphia and Delaware, in the southern tier counties west to Somerset, along the Susquehanna Valley, and in the other southeastern counties bordering the traditional anthracite producing counties (Pennsylvania pp). Butler was the only western county to grow in population, and Monroe and Pike counties, formerly sparsely populated, grew at astonishing rates (Pennsylvania pp). Between 1980 and 1990, Adams, Bucks, Chester, Lancaster, Perry, Union, and Wayne grew by ten percent or more, and there has been a remarkably high population growth in the eastern, non-industrial boarder areas, which have been stimulated by improved interstate highways (Pennsylvania pp).
One reason for the growth has been the fact that young workers with children and retired workers from New York, New Jersey, and Maryland have been attracted by the lower living costs and the cleaner environment (Pennsylvania pp). However, Pennsylvania is not considered among the right-to-work states, and both state and federal programs have retrained workers who have been laid off due to technological change (Pennsylvania pp). Today, the state has the sixth largest labor pool force in the nation, some 5.89 million people and in 1996 the state's unemployment rate was 4.8%, compared to the national rate of 5.0% (Pennsylvania pp).
Pennsylvania's industries include chemicals, food, electrical machinery and equipment, cement, clay products-bricks, tile and fire clay, glass, limestone, slate, and electronic data processing has increased tremendously, and computerization has improved basic manufacturing and service processes (Pennsylvania pp). However, the backbone of the state's economy is the more than 51,000 farms, which makes Pennsylvania an important food distribution center, supplying farm and food products to markets from New England to the Mississippi River (Pennsylvania pp). Agriculture continues to grow stronger through the statewide efforts of farm and commodity organizations, agricultural extension services, strong vocational agricultural programs, and the state Department of Agriculture (Pennsylvania pp).
Each year Pennsylvania farmers sell more than $3.6 billion in crop and livestock products, and agribusiness and food-related industries make up some $39 billion in economic activity (Pennsylvania pp). Over four million acres of land are harvested crop land, and another four million acres are in farm woodlands and pastures, accounting for roughly one-third of the state's total land area (Pennsylvania pp). In fact, Pennsylvania ranks among the top ten states in such varied products as milk, poultry, eggs, ice cream, pears, apples, grapes, cherries, sweet corn, potatoes, mushrooms, tomatoes, cheese, maple syrup, cabbage, snap beans, Christmas trees and floriculture crops, pretzels, potato chips, sausage, wheat flour, and bakery products (Pennsylvania pp). The state ranks nineteenth in the nation in total farm income, although in total farm acreage it is thirty-seventh, and ranks fifth in milk cows, seventeenth in total cattle, fifteenth in hogs, twenty-fourth in sheep, and seventh in non-citrus fruits (Pennsylvania pp).
Central Pennsylvania is predominately rural, thus in 1996, Charles Abdalla and Timothy Kelsey summarized the conflict between farmers and the local community in an article titled, "Breaking the Impasse: Helping Communities Cope with Change at the Rural-Urban Interface," stating that "conflicts ... threaten livelihoods and traditional ways of living, and tear communities apart ... often escalate into larger community, county, or statewide debates over who is right and what should be done" (Gomez pp). The disputes in farming today can be sorted into one of two areas, nuisances and expansion (Gomez pp). Nuisance complaints generally come from non-farming neighbors who do not understand the traditions of farming, and these conflicts often become a public issue of disagreements that grow into broader controversies that harm the broader community (Gomez pp). Nuisance complaints can have detrimental effects on farmers in suburbanizing areas, typically "resulting from what farmers characterize as their new neighbors ... somewhat unrealistic expectations about the nature of country living in general and farming in particular" (Gomez pp).
Individuals oppose expansion for a number of reasons (Gomez pp). Non-farming neighbors oppose expansion and large operations due to the typical nuisances, such as odor and noise, while, small operation farmers and local governments oppose large farm operations due to harmful effects to the environment (Gomez pp). Moreover, large farm operations threaten small family farming profits, and many believe that large farms are unrepresentative of the traditions involved in farming and do not want their bad reputations to be associated with small farms (Gomez pp). Therefore, many farm associations advocate small farming and try to prevent expansion, which is referred to by many groups as "factory farming," in which corporations won large industrial farms and owners are not on the premises (Gomez pp). "The Municipal Planning Act, amended in 2000, provides broad definitions for the preservation of agriculture, carrying the cause promoted by Farm Bureau ... Under the code, Ag cannot be restricted where it has been traditionally present" (Gomez pp).
The Pennsylvania Rural Development Council's mission is to "strengthen the capacity of rural Pennsylvania to prosper in a changing economic and social climate" (Annual pp). The PRDC is changing rural Pennsylvania by being an active participant in community activities, such as holding leadership meetings, state-wide videoconferences, participating in health care summits, telecommunication and promoting travel and tourism (Annual pp). Its mission and vision is to continue efforts to join forces with all levels of government, as well as private and non-profit sectors to improve the lives in rural Pennsylvania (Annual pp). According to the PRDC, businesses are increasingly looking to healthy communities for expansion and the creation of new enterprises, while communities rely upon the jobs that industry brings (Annual pp). Rural Pennsylvania is especially dependent on a vibrant economy that includes industry, small business and agriculture (Annual pp).
To determine the PRDC's role, the committee must rely on information concerning what other agencies do in relation to rural development (Annual pp).
The committee discussed a variety of topics including:
Workforce Accurate, current labor force date from the state.
State's brain gain initiative (homestead policy).
Housing Affordable housing in rural areas, both rental and owner occupied. Accessible housing in rural communities.
Lead-based paint in older housing stock.
Financing unique to rural homeowners.
Building organizational capacity to do housing programs.
Section 8 homeownership/USDA financing support
Infrastructure Broadband access and telecommunications issues,
Electric and gas line extension where return on investment is not driving installation.
Utilities driving force of viability.
Territorial restrictions that inhibit development.
Land Use Economic development components in county comprehensive plans.
Water resource management, watersheds.
Reforestation requirements excessive.
The PRDC committee is now formulating a plan to address these issues and has created a sub-committee for each topic (Annual pp). It is particularly dedicated to the issue of providing digital infrastructure with an overall vision to ensure the equitable treatment of rural Pennsylvania with regard to legislation, regulatory action and policy that affects their access to telecommunications technology (Annual pp). The committee claims that one of the major issues facing rural Pennsylvania is the lack of high-speed telecommunications infrastructure and the understanding and knowledge of its importance from an economic, health, and social perspective (Annual pp). There are many providers competing to provide this service, however a business case or regulatory requirement must be made in order to speed the deployment to under-served areas, yet the lack of understanding together with confusion about initiatives and resources available demonstrates a need for better awareness (Annual pp).
According to Congressional testimony by David Black, Deputy Secretary for Community Affairs and Development PA Department of Community and Economic Development, the economic challenges in rural Pennsylvania are to in part to a shift in the national economy, and in part to a shift in local economic base (Black pp). Much of Pennsylvania's rural economy, like most rural areas throughout the country, is based in natural resources, coal, timber and natural gas, and when these industries began to fade, it becomes necessary to shift the economic base (Black pp). Although the economy is stronger now, some areas of rural Pennsylvania lag behind in economic growth, however by exercising a regional approach and using the information from the Rural Development Council, rural Pennsylvania is taking advantage of programs and resources designed to help areas that are at an economic disadvantage (Black pp). The PRDC has tried to open lines of access and communication to rural Pennsylvania, and through the use of telecommunications technology, it has established a forum for live exchange of information on federal and sate initiatives (Black pp). According to Black, "These initiatives cross the spectrum of all issues from welfare reform to economic development to transportation to name just a few" (Black pp). During the year 2000, over 3,000 new jobs were created, and more than 2,000, or sixty percent, of the new jobs created in these economically depressed zones were in rural areas (Black pp).