The IMAGINE Berks Survey
The project team issued an online community survey as part of the IMAGINE Berks engagement process, which also included a county-wide listening tour, one-on-one interviews, and small-group workshops. To-date, more than 400 community members from 69 different municipalities have completed the survey. The project team has worked to be as inclusive as possible throughout the planning process, recognizing that each municipality in Berks County has unique needs and opportunities. Below are key trends and themes from the community survey that have helped to shape the IMAGINE Berks plan and its portfolio of strategies.
Key Trends and Themes
When asked what they love most about Berks County, many respondents mentioned the beautiful scenery and rural, natural landscape. Diversity, outdoor recreation, educational opportunities, and the low cost of living were also commonly mentioned.
The most common economic strength mentioned by respondents was Berks’s location. A significant number of respondents consider manufacturing as the county’s greatest economic asset, as well as health care, farming and related food production, and small business.
Participants suggested a wide range of improvements for the community, but the need to improve roads, transportation, and housing were particularly common. Additionally, the City of Reading is seen as an asset that could be further improved.
Other themes and opinions included:
Business & Industry Growth When asked about the County’s most significant economic asset, respondents noted industry strengths including the “diversity of industry [and] dynamic workforce” and the “large and dynamic manufacturing sector.”
Small Business & Entrepreneurship Many respondents acknowledged the importance of small business and entrepreneurship in Berks. According to one respondent, small business owners "are the lifeblood of both the economy and the community… I love how small businesses collaborate together to ensure mutual success.”
Talent & Economic Mobility Some respondents mentioned the untapped talent pool in Berks County: “The workforce [is the County’s most significant economic asset]. There is more talent here than we generally appreciate.”
Housing Many respondents mentioned the need for improved housing. “We need to address the need for housing of all types throughout the region.”
Infrastructure & Land Use Many respondents mentioned the need to improve roads, alleviate traffic, and other aging infrastructure investments: If I could wave a magic wand, I would improve the County’s “aging infrastructures and sub-standard internet/cell coverage”
Placemaking “What I love about Berks County is the nature, murals, land, parks, and festivals.”
Thank you to all the community members who contributed their valuable time, insights, and passions during the planning process. Continued participation throughout implementation of the IMAGINE Berks plan will be incredibly important to its success.
Collaboration will be key to developing Berks County as a place where our diverse assets are recognized, uplifted, and celebrated to ensure economic prosperity for all.
Plan Progress Update & Next Steps
Through community engagement and data analysis, the project team has identified the following overarching principles that will form the foundation of the IMAGINE Berks plan and inform its goals and strategies. As the County and its partners shift from planning to implementation, these key principles will ensure the plan’s long-term vision is realized.
Invest in strategies that support the retention and creation of “opportunity jobs”
Prioritize investment in redevelopment activities, including industrial, commercial, and residential projects
Invest in development that increases the tax base of Berks County
Ensure public accountability in plan implementation by reporting back on progress
Leverage the County's position as a regional partner
Recognize and support the growing diversity of the Berks community
IMAGINE Berks! defines "opportunity jobs" as jobs that provide benefits and a wage greater than or equal to the county's living wage ($63,546 annually or $30.55 per hour in 2020). Living wage reflects the amount a household must earn, before tax, to support a family of three with two adults and one child, in which one adult is working.
The project team is currently working to finalize strategies for the IMAGINE Berks Plan. Accountability and clearly defined responsibilities will be critical to ensuring the successful execution of the county’s Strategic Economic Development Action Plan. As such, the project team is working with partner organizations who will help lead or support strategy implementation. The team is engaging partners to finalize strategy details and confirm their alignment and commitment to implementation.
Final approval of the IMAGINE Berks plan is scheduled for June 2022. During its 5-year implementation, county government and plan partners will convene to further develop and initiate work plans for each of the IMAGINE Berks strategies. The County will lead an ongoing reporting process to track implementation progress and impact, as measured by defined metrics that will be detailed in the plan.
Stay tuned for more information as the team prepares to release the final IMAGINE Berks plan!