County continues to make progress
● By Steven Hoffman
Later this month, the Chester County Press will be publishing Progress, our annual business & industry review. One of the stories in Progress will look at the economic outlook for Chester County and—no surprise here—that outlook is bright.
At a time when Pennsylvania's economy could generously be called sluggish, with only modest gains in economic growth and job creation, Chester County continues to gain momentum. The county’s unemployment rate stands at 4.1 percent, which is considerably better than the national average of 5.1 percent. The median household income in the county is $85,373. The county has a triple A bond rating, one of just 50 counties in the country to achieve that, and that means that money is available for necessary projects and services.
Chester County is the wealthiest county in the state, and ranks twelfth overall in wealth in the entire U.S. It is also the tenth-most innovative digital county in the nation. From vibrant and charming downtowns to bustling business parks filled with larger companies to a still-rural countryside that offers a high quality of life, the signs of Chester County's smart growth are obvious wherever you look.
One reason for the county's prosperity is its diverse industry base. Agriculture, including the mushroom industry here in southern Chester County, continues to be enormously important to the county's economic well-being overall. But Chester County's broad economy is growing in a number of different sectors, including financial services, health care, and education. There are no fewer than 100 colleges and universities that are located within 50 miles, which not only offers good jobs for county residents, it also means that career training is available for residents close to home. A well-educated workforce is always a major advantage for a community looking to attract new businesses. With a diverse industry base and a highly educated population, Chester County makes an enormous contribution to the region’s overall economic environment today, and it is well-positioned for the future.
It's easy to understand why, in 2016, Chester County ranked fourth in the entire country in a ranking of the happiest counties by SmartAsset. The formula in the survey took into account positive factors like marriage rate, income ratio, life expectancy, and the rate of physical activity. The negative factors included poverty rate, unemployment rate, divorce rate, and personal bankruptcy rates.
In other surveys, Chester County has ranked as the healthiest county in the state.
Chester County has succeeded in providing a high quality of life to its residents by balancing economic development with preservation efforts. The schools are good, making the area attractive to young families. Officials in local municipalities have been careful to promote smart growth and to invest in parks and recreation. There have been significant efforts to revitalize downtowns like Kennett Square and Oxford.
Chester County's success at a time when the state as a whole is making only modest economic progress, suggests that there might be some initiatives and practices here that might be helpful to communities across Pennsylvania.