State director tells leaders that Kennett 'is a place that gets it'
● By Richard Gaw
Before about 100 elected officials, key volunteers and general movers and shakers in the Kennett Square community, Richard Vilello, Pennsylvania Deputy Secretary for Community Affairs and Development and the keynote speaker at the annual “State of the Square” event on May 9, equated the economic, cultural and systematic progress being made by the Kennett borough and Kennett Township to being on the varsity team or being an honor roll student.
A former four-term mayor of Lock Haven, Vilello said that his mayor's job only paid him $37.50 a week, which required him to continue his career in construction management and code inspection. In his role, Vilello was responsible for the hiring of personnel, and he would often look for the intangibles in a potential employee, such as how they wore their tool belt, the degree of use that their tools had, and seeing if their tape measure was well worn.
Soon after he accepted his new position a year ago, Vilello visited Kennett Square for a tour with Historic Kennett Square Executive Director Mary Hutchins, and others.
“In my role as community development director, I get to travel all over Pennsylvania,” said Vilello, who has traveled to 61 counties and met with representatives from 800 municipalities. “After I had that meeting a year ago, I got in the car to leave, and I told myself, 'They really get it.' The tool belt was properly worn, the tape measure looked like people knew what it was supposed to do, and the tools were being used.
“You have all of the tools and all of the features here that everyone else has tried to recreate. Places are spending millions and million of dollars to copy what you have right here. You've made fantastic progress.”
Vilello said that proper planning for a municipality should not be approached in the myopia of the present, but done in a way that sees the impact of the plan in the far-off future.
“When we look at where we're going, we can't just look at just next week,” he said. “We can't just look at the next quarter. We have to look at five years from now. We have to look at ten years from now. We have to look at 50 years from now.”
Vilello encouraged those in attendance to implement ideas with that big picture in mind. He estimated that during the creation of Kennett's economic development plan, Vilello said that it is likely that 95 percent of the people agreed with 80 percent of the plan's contents.
“My message is to keep doing what you're doing and to focus on the things that you agree on, and forget about the minor, little things that you fight over and disagree on, and make progress on the things that you agree on,” he said. “I consider you the varsity team, the honor roll student, and the place that gets it, and anything I can do to help you accomplish the goals that you've laid out between the non profits, the borough and the township, it is my role to help you get that job done.”
The event, which was held at the American Legion Hall on Broad Street, also featured a presentation by Historic Kennett Square Vice President Tom Sausen, who gave the audience a current snapshot and forecast for the immediate future. He called 2107 a good year for economic development in the borough and township, with almost $8.4 million in spending on commercial property and new business investment – a trend that has continued to rise over the past few years, he said.
He said that three new businesses in the downtown district open last year, as well as a new owner at the new Square Pear Fine Art Gallery; and the relocation of Salt & Stone and Chantilly Blue.
Sausen also praised the success of the Kennett Holiday Village at the Creamery, which began in 2016 and expanded to two weekends in 2017, drawing over 8,000 visitors in four days; the 20th year of the Kennett Brewfest; the formation of a new arts and culture committee; and a commitment to promoting Historic Kennett Square on social media.
Economic Development Director Nate Echeverria provided a “What, How and Who” overview of Historic Kennett Square's key initiatives. Referring to its economic development study, Echeverria identified growth area that have old buildings that can be repurposed, including State and Cypress Streets, Birch Street, the NVF building, and areas where Kennett Township meets the Kennett Borough; and implementing priorities set by the township's supervisors and the borough council, such as affordable housing, integration between the two municipalities.
Key goals of the plan in 2018 will include strengthening local arts programs; creating a design committee to help facilitate and accomplish the goals of the economic plan; and creating a strategy for expanding corporate and individual sponsorships, in order to improve sustainability in the Historic Kennett Square district.
Representing the sponsor of the event, Bryn Mawr Trust Vice President Tony Poluch, who also serves on the Historic Kennett Square Board of Directors, said that Kennett Square is at the epicenter of the economic growth of southern Chester County, which has been stimulated by Bryn Mawr Trust's new multicultural bank initiative, that provides affordable home mortgages for the Hispanic community.
“When I came to the bank 7 years ago, they wanted me to develop Chester County, and my strategic plan showed me that I was going to concentrate in southern Chester County. They said, Why is that?' and I said, That's where the growth is going to be in Chester County. Just bear with me and we'll see what happens.'
Miguel Alban, Bryn Mawr Trust's vice president of multicultural banking, looked at his role as more than simply helping the Latino community with home mortgages. He is partnering with Historic Kennett Square to provide more opportunities to fold the Latino business community into the fabric of Kennett Square. He thanked the audience and the many organizations they represent for helping to achieve that mission.
“Keep doing it, because we are just going to continue to grow,” Alban said. “Any time I go to my kid's schools, [I see that the student population] is sometimes 60 percent Hispanic, which is helping our children to become more diverse, and helping everyone understand that while we may look a little different, we are all the same.”
Bill Taylor and Myra Miller were recognized by Historic Kennett Square for their long-time volunteer work in the community – Taylor for his 13-year involvement in the organization of the annual Memorial Day parade; and Miller for her volunteerism with the annual Kennett Brewfest for the past 15 years. Hutchins said that in 2017, Historic Kennett Square had 150 volunteers, who contributed a total of 1,300 hours.
After he first became mayor of Kennett Square in 2009, Matt Fetick told the audience that he was asked by Hutchins to speak at the “State of the Square” that year.
“Mary asked me to come and share my vision for what I wanted to see in Kennett Square,” Fetick said. “I will tell you that it hasn't changed since that first meeting until now. My vision through the mayor's office is to support everyone else's vision – to support the non profits and their dream for what our town can be.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.