Unionville Times Op/Ed: VISTA 2025 offer balance of growth and preservation
October 15, 2014
By Molly Morrison, President, Natural Lands Trust
It may be surprising that preservation features so prominently in reports about Chester County’s new economic development plan. The need to balance economic growth and preservation is, however, the innovative and insightful organizing principal of VISTA 2025, the County’s new Economic Development Strategy.
The plan, prepared with input from business, community, and government leaders, as well as hundreds of county residents, recognizes that there is an essential character – a quality of place – that makes Chester County a wonderful place to live and plays a vital role in making it one of the most economically vibrant and resilient counties in the country.
Access to natural materials and proximity to markets once drove the choices industries made about where to locate. In this post-industrial age, access to talented employees is the most important consideration and businesses know that the workers they seek choose communities with an attractive quality of life.
Chester County, it turns out, has excelled at preserving and enhancing its quality of place.
What makes Chester County so special? When the plan’s authors asked residents to define which qualities they value most, they pointed emphatically to the county’s beautiful natural areas, its parks, its streams, and its rolling farmland. According to residents, these open spaces are an essential element of the Chester County experience. The VISTA 2025 report makes it clear that they are essential to its economic health, as well.
Conservationists have long made the case that preserving open space is good for the economy. The visionaries who launched Chester County’s nationally-recognized open space program 25 years ago – and the overwhelming majority of voters who approved it – understood that preserving the rural character of the county would enhance its economy. The County Commissioners, past and present, who have made smart investments in conservation have done so knowing that they are investing in more than pretty places… they are investing in one of the county’s greatest economic assets.
In VISTA 2025, we have a vision for the County’s economic future that places protecting its quality of place front and center. This means, as the plan states, “augmenting the supply of natural lands for passive recreation and outdoor healthy living activities.” It means maintaining and enhancing our parks and trails. It means preserving and enhancing agriculture. And, it means that, for all of our past success in preserving the county’s farms, fields, and forests, there is much more still to do.
VISTA 2025 provides a compelling vision for sustaining and growing Chester County’s economy. Technology, finance, tourism, agriculture, education, the arts, big businesses, small businesses… all play a vital role. But, the plan makes it clear that protecting Chester County’s cherished sense of place is the foundation on which a sustainable, healthy economy must be built.