The Mon Valley is a thriving, vibrant place to live, work and play.

I am certain that statement has many laughing, cursing or shaking their head. Yes, I am an optimist, but I am also an experienced professional with a vision of what we can be as a community.

The key is community, not communities. We must begin to think and work as one.

The existing culture in the Mon Valley is predominantly negative. We spend far too much time focusing on our problems, which could lead to us being defeated before we get to the table. We know our problems, so there is no need to continue restating them. It’s time to create a culture of possibility that is rooted in a positive vision and brings forward real solutions.

What’s wrong with the Valley will be fixed by what’s right with the Valley. We have the technology and, now, the necessary resources as a result of the booming natural gas industry in our region. This industry represents something other than jobs: the opportunity to thrive once again.

Through employing place-based economic development principles, strategic planning, public engagement and – most important – public commitment, we can create a place that unites our community, attracts visitors and supports businesses for decades to come. The only thing stopping us is us.

The natural gas revolution Southwestern Pennsylvania has been experiencing for the past decade or so represents the greatest economic revitalization opportunity in my lifetime. The shale revolution in the United States has transformed not just our region, but our domestic energy outlook as well.

The impact on energy markets around the world has been staggering. Over this time, domestic crude oil production has surged 140%, while gas output is up 55%. Today, we are easily the world’s largest oil and gas producer, yielding 20% more oil and 25% more gas than Russia.

How is the oil and gas industry going to revitalize the Mon Valley? We have always had the work ethic, now we have the technology and resources to invest and thrive again. Like our ancestors who worked in steel mills and coal mines and produced materials that built our country, we are ready to invest in what comes next.

Yes, we have work to do. Our workforce needs training, and in some cases, motivation. The industry is investing in us and we must, in turn, invest in it. Industry will have passionate people working for them and a community that supports them.

To build a culture of possibility, we must expand our vision and learn how to talk to each other across boundaries. Political boundaries only divide and weaken us. At every level of government, we’re seeing a rejection of compromise, which serves no great purpose. We can work toward a sustainable future together.

If our communities are merely a compilation of empty, underutilized buildings and vacant lots, we cannot survive, let alone thrive. From Allenport to Southpointe, our strength is each other.

We see progress. Communities across our region are gaining new businesses, restaurants and shops in areas that were formerly vacant or economically distressed. We have underutilized main streets bursting with opportunities to celebrate the Mon Valley’s diverse history, expand economic opportunity within our community and create a culture of possibility.

Creating vibrant, walkable downtown districts will help attract and retain talented people and companies that want to hire them. We have walkable disinvested downtown business districts waiting for reinvestment. Each is an opportunity to create a long-term, resilient, economic asset for the Mon Valley.

We have reason to be optimistic. The buzz around the Appalachian Storage Hub and the downstream opportunities is real. Our region is in a sustainable upward trend, and – as we know – a rising tide raises all ships.

The Mon Valley is, indeed, riding that rising tide. And we’re doing our share. A culture of possibility is being created in the hearts and minds of our people. Visionary leaders are putting in the work required to build a sustainable future. Let’s do this together.

Jamie Protin is founder and principal of The Protin Group in Belle Vernon.

To submit business-related columns, email Rick Shrum at rshrum@observer-reporter.com.

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