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Buzz, Generated — John Persinger (CEO, Erie Downtown Development Corporation)

John Persinger joins the podcast to discuss his role as CEO for the Erie Downtown Development Corporation. This group has gone about revitalizing the downtown through the addition of Flagship City Food Hall, the Flagship City Public Market, new (and relocated) shops, and more in the future. We cover all this in our conversation, plus Persinger's history in the city's political scene and his thoughts on the NWPA Innovation Beehive Network. One note: this conversation was recorded in late February, and the Public Market has since opened in downtown.

Sponsored by: Erie Regional Chamber & Growth Partnership

This podcast is a product of the NWPA Innovation Beehive Network. Most guests are clients that have used our free services.

Music: Kevin Macleod’s "pamgaea" available via Creative Commons Attribution-International 4.0. License:, No changes were made.

Music by Audionautix's "Roboskater" by Jason Shaw available via Creative Commons Attribution-International 4.0. License:, No changes were made.


JOHN PERSINGER: This is the heart of our downtown. We should showcase the best that Erie has to offer. To give people a reason to visit Erie; to want to move here; to want to invest here. And so the thought behind creating the food hall was let’s give a platform to some of Erie’s great culinary talent.

NARRATOR: That’s John Persinger, Chief Executive Officer for the Erie Downtown Development Corporation. He’s our guest on this episode of Buzz Generated, a show that introduces listeners to businesses and community leaders throughout Northwest Pennsylvania and beyond.

Through our conversation, you’ll first learn about how the Downtown Development Corporation and the Erie Downtown Equity Fund started. Then, you’ll get an inside look at the popular and fresh Flagship City Food Hall while also learning about future plans to bring more economic and community development to Downtown Erie.

Join host Tony Peyronel, the executive director of entrepreneurial development for Edinboro’s Center for Branding and Strategic Communication, as he sits down with our guest. Together, let's discover what the buzz is all about.

TONY PEYRONEL: We’re joined on the podcast today by, John Persinger. The CEO of the Erie Downtown Development Corporation (EDDC). John, it’s a pleasure to have you on the show, and welcome.

JOHN PERSINGER: Thank you so much for having me.

Tony: EDDC was formed in 2017 and charged with transforming Erie’s downtown in addition to spurring regional economic development. Let’s start by you having you explain what forces were behind the launch of EDDC and how things got started.

JOHN PERSINGER: Well, to start with the EDCC, you have to start a year ahead of that with the delivery of Erie’s comprehension plan; Erie Re-focused. Erie goes through a comprehensive planning process. That plan authored by Charles Buki was delivered in 2016, and it was likely destined to become another plan that just sat on the shelf and collected dust. Until Erie Insurance got a new CEO, Tim NeCastro, who you should have on as a guest on the show. And, he had been given the directive to be more engaged with the community. And so, Tim went to one of the presentations by the author, Charles Buki. Hung around afterward and said, basically, a great plan, but how and where do you start? And the consultant, Charles Bookie said, go out to Cincinnati. There’s a group out there called the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation. They’ve been doing this work in the Cincinnati Over The Rhine neighborhood for over 15-20 years, and they’ll give you some good advice, lessons learned, recommendations on how to get started.

So, in 2017, Tim rounds up this group of CEOs and philanthropic leaders, and they all go out to Cincinnati and come back with 4 lessons learned. One, if you want to do this re-vitalization work, you have to start in the core of your downtown. You can’t have your downtown be an anchor that’s pulling down the region. And if you think about world history, you think about the way that communities have developed. They’ve seemed to have developed around a town square. And that’s what you have in the downtown court. You have Perry square, which is our town square. So one, start in your downtown core. Two, cluster your investments together. You can’t do this alone. You need others to invest in downtown. If you cluster your investments together, you can show people that there’s work happening. There’s investment going on. It will spur confidence and market momentum. And, you’ll be able to attract further investments. Three, start a new organization to do this work.

There’s money that’s available from philanthropic organizations from the state, and federal governments to do this type of work. If you have a 501C3, you can after some of those available funds. Four, and most importantly, you need private money to make this happen. You have a very soft real estate market, which means it’ll cost more to acquire and re-develop a building than what it will appraise for. So you’re going to have gaps on these projects. You’re going to need someone to come in and fill that gap. With those four lessons learned, in 2017, Tim and this group of other CEOs and philanthropic leaders came back and set up two organizations; the EDDC. That is us, that is acquire and developer of properties. That is that 501C3 that was recommended. They also formed the Erie Downtown Equity Fund. That is private money. That is the money that is coming in and filling gaps on projects. We’ve called it transformational capital because it’s helping us acquire properties, helping us hire professionals to get a sense of what we can do with these projects. And it also serves as gap financing and patient capital.

So, more important than forming the organizations, these leaders can’t raise money and can’t do any of this work without money. They raised just over 3 million dollars to seed our organization; the EDDC, so we could hire staff and engage professionals. More importantly, they raised 27 and a half million dollars for the Erie Downtown Equity Fund. And we are in the midst of 100 million dollars of investment happening in the heart of the city. None of that happens without that initial 27 and a half million. So that’s how we got started. I gave a kind of prelude to where we are headed.

TONY PEYRONEL: Well, excellent, excellent. I have to say, I’ve lived and worked in the region for 30 years now. And for a lot of those years, I was cynical. My eyes would glaze over when I would hear people talk about quote; re-inventing Erie. Especially from an economic perspective. But for at least the last several years, it seems there really is a confluence of political, business and other leaders and influences coming together to make positive change happen on that front. I’m assuming and taking off on your first answer, am I correct in assuming that you share that feeling and that you view EDDC as one of the cogs in the wheels?

JOHN PERSINGER: You are correct on a number of fronts. When I got started on this role, I went around to different community groups and talked about our plans. Inevitably someone, and usually multiple people stood up and said, this can’t be done and it’ll never happen. This is Erie and nothing changes. And, I was a bit maybe naive, young, and new into the role. So I just stood there and said, it’s going to happen and it will happen. It hasn’t been easy. There’s been a lot of challenges along the way. But I have never been more optimistic for the communities future. And that’s because of what you just talked about. We are better organized than ever before. It’s not perfect, but there’s better collaboration going on right now in the community. You’ve seen major investments from the private sector. Erie Insurance put up new headquarters. Both hospital systems have been making significant investments in their campuses.

In the downtown court, you have Gannon who’s close to 60 million dollars of projects going on. You have this bayfront that is undergoing a transformation. It is a lot of investment happening at this time. What has been interesting is, this all started before the pandemic. And the pandemic has created challenges, but it’s also created opportunities. We’ve received an incredible amount of money from the federal government and seems to be as if there’s more coming. One of the things we’ve learned in this organization is that the cities that have done well, the cities that have done a great job at reinventing themselves and re-vitalizing themselves, have done a good job at layering the public capital along with the private capital. Up until now, we’ve seen a lot of private capital and a lot of private investment. I think what you’re going to see in the next few years is a lot of public investment to match that private investment. It really is an exciting time and we’ve been working on this, and it’s great to see buildings open and see people coming back downtown.

TONY PEYRONEL: I bet, I bet. I’ve heard you describe EDDC’s approach as a quote; shocking the market. As I alluded to earlier, for decades really, there seems to be a resignation of fate that has returned to the boom times of a manufacturing-driven economy, was becoming increasingly unlikely with no tangible alternative plan in place. Is that attitude a part of what motivated you to take a bold approach?

JOHN PERSINGER: Absolutely. We are from the community, we live in the community, we’ve known that the community has gone through 6 years of economic and population decline. So, it was really important early on to make a statement that this time was different. To what you alluded to earlier, we have a graveyard of failed economic developed initiatives. And so, we wanted to make people aware that this was going to be different. When I was hired into this role, the board had engaged some consultants, and there was a recommended strategy for the EDDC. And that was a typical business strategy. This sort of, get the low hanging fruit. Get the work on that, grow from there. A steady as she goes approach makes sense in a healthy market, a healthy business, but that’s not what we had in the downtown. As I just mentioned, we’ve suffered through 6 years of economic and population decline. So when I got into this role, we talked with the board of the EDDC and the EDEF about the need to do something bigger, do something bolder, to shock the market back to life today, because it’s not clear if we would have a future. So, we’ve been pouring what that means from a practical perspective. We’ve been trying to pour as much investment, development, construction, retail, housing, activity, into such a tightly concentrated footprint that hopefully, it creates a ripple effect from here on out.

TONY PEYRONEL: I think that’s obvious. Speaking of that footprint, I personally think one of your biggest success stories has to be the Flagship City Food Hall on the north park road. I’m in the boonies, I live outside of Cambridge Springs. I work in Edinboro, so I haven’t had a chance to get there for lunch yet.

JOHN PERSINGER:I’m disappointed we weren’t recording this podcast at the food hall.

TONY PEYRONEL: We probably should’ve done it. But, the people I talk to who have been there, just rave about the place. Almost like its impact has been revolutionary. Did you expect that type of reaction?

JOHN PERSINGER:It’s exceeded my expectation. I knew it was going to be transformational, just because of the amount of money and activity that we were pouring into that space. And because it would be Erie’s first food hall. But, Erie is a tough crowd. It's a tough audience. And I wasn’t sure how the community would react to clustering these 9 vendors all under one roof, and it’s really a great diverse representation of the community. We have everyone from the sort of established, long-time community businesses, such as; Straw Hat ice cream shop, and Lucky Louie’s, to some start-ups like, Taste and See, and Taste of Love, and so it’s really a representation of the community. It’s been great to see the reaction.

When we acquired those buildings, it wasn’t clear what we were going to do with them. I think some would’ve rather had us put another restaurant in. Some would’ve been okay if we got a developer in to do something with it. We had one developer reach out to us and he said, oh yeah, I’ve done these types of projects. Historic buildings. We’ll put an Olive Garden on the ground floor. And I thought; if we put an Olive Garden in Perry Square, in one of our most historic buildings, I will not just get fired but also ran out of town.

TONY PEYRONEL: Nothing against Olive Garden, but that’s not the fit.

JOHN PERSINGER:Not in the heart of our town where we talk about the need to cultivate the Erie experience. This is the heart of our downtown. We should showcase the best that Erie has to offer, to get people to want to visit Erie, to want to move here, to want to invest here. So the thought about creating the food hall was; let’s give a platform for some of Erie’s great culinary talent. We know Erie likes to eat. We know Erie likes to drink. It’s reflected in all the ethnic festivals that we have throughout the summertime by our great breweries and by our great restaurants. So, let's focus on food on this block.

Another reason we’re a private entity is that we’re revitalizing the downtown, and we live in a very diverse community. As you mentioned, you live out in the country. But think about it, you’re not that far from downtown. And you’re not that far from Presque Isle. And you’re not that far from a Fortune 500 company. And you’re not that far from affordable housing. So there’s an incredible diversity that we have within such a small footprint. And we talked about, how do we bring the community together? We ask that question every day. What can we do to bring the community together? We live in such polarizing times. People are divided over their political preference, their racial lines, whether they’re a Browns or Steelers fan, so we thought; let’s create a space to bring the community together. What’s something that brings people together? Food. Who doesn’t like a good meal? So that was kind of the inspiration being flagship city food hall, which has come to be known as the communities dining room.

TONY PEYRONEL: Since we’re on the topic of food, I want to talk about what you recently announced, what could be described as something of a follow-up to the food hall project. And that’s the launch of a new restaurant within the cashier's house. A historic building located at 413 State Street. What can you tell our listeners about those plans?

JOHN PERSINGER: We have this wonderful, beautiful, historic building right in the middle of the 400 block of state street, known as the Cashier’s House. It was built in 1839 as the home of the CEO of the bank that was next door. Before they had ATMs, the CEO had to be close to the safe to open it up whenever someone wanted money, so the CEO was known as the cashier, and that came to be known as the Cashier’s House. It went through a variety of uses after. It was a lawyer's office, it was a finishing school for young ladies, it was owned by the historical society. The art museum was using it for storage.

When Tim NeCastro and I were touring properties down there, we took a tour of that building and it was empty, and we couldn’t figure out what was going on. We talked to property owners about leasing it from them to turn it into our office. We got crazy looks like, you really want to turn this place into your office? And, we said yes, it’s a historic building right on the main street, and it should be used for something other than storage. As we got into that space, it was a great office. It was a great place to go to work. We had a nice sitting room on the ground floor. My kids loved going to Subway right next door, having lunch, and sitting on the couch watching movies. But it’s a historic property right on our main street. It should be opened to the public. So we found a great chef; an Erie native who went to culinary school in Italy.

He had worked for a hospitality company in Philadelphia that had wine bars and cafes in historic properties, and we’ve been wanting to make this building open to the public and talk to him about this concept. He was all in! We finally got our permit back. We’ll be starting construction in the next few weeks. There will be a cafe on the ground floor. On the upper floors, we’re going to leave it for pop-ups. We have an Erie native, a woman by the name of; Alexandria Ellis. Who’s creating different pop-ups for us. So, it will be a great spot where you can come any day of the week or weekend. Get a nice meal, or get a slice of pie. Wander around the upper floors and see what some of your guests have for sale. And, enjoy a day in downtown Erie.

TONY PEYRONEL: It’s interesting. You talk about food bringing people together, and all the things to bring someone into the city, including someone like me whos pretty far out in the boonies. It’s funny but, Little Italy, the west 18th street back when Hector’s cafe was there; it was a favorite place to go for dinner. We’ve lost some of that, but, last Saturday, I was at the international bakery picking up some buns and some different things. So, I’m not lying when I say I’m very excited about this Cashier’s House project and I think you nailed it. That’s an example of people driving a mile or two to get to something they really like, and food is certainly a common element of that.

JOHN PERSINGER: We went with food because it brings the community together, but it also, and I mentioned; how do we cultivate an Erie experience in the downtown? We are well aware that we are living in the age of Amazon. Where you can go on your phone and hit a button and have something delivered to you in two days. That is great, but, that doesn’t replace sitting down to a meal with a friend, family member, even by yourself, and enjoying the great food. And so, that’s why we went with a lot of food in these ground floor spaces. But we also have some other tenants; Point 4, a women’s clothing store. Primo tailoring, a men’s tailoring, and clothing shop.

These local businesses themselves, do a great job at creating experiences because we know we’re competing against Amazon. The goal is; we want to make downtown a destination for being who are here in the region, but also, for people who are maybe from Buffalo, Pittsburgh, or Cleveland. If you come to downtown Erie for a day, or if you’re going to the Peninsula for a few hours; we want you to come to the downtown and spend some time browsing these great local businesses, getting something unique to eat, and walking away with a really positive feeling about Erie.

NARRATOR: This episode of Buzz Generated is sponsored by the Erie Regional Chamber and Growth Partnership. The voice of the business community in the Erie region. The chamber provides advocacy and access to people, education, and information so the businesses have the leadership, resources, and expertise needed for continued prosperity throughout the region. Schedule a time to meet with the business action team and learn more about how the chamber can help, or visit the Erie Regional Chamber and Growth Partnership online at

The growth of our vibrant community and Erie PA depends on a dynamic business environment. The Erie Regional Chamber and Growth Partnership aims to provide just that. Let’s get back to the episode.

TONY PEYRONEL: Another part of downtown that I like to talk about, are the shops at 5th and State. That’s an area I orient as saying; it’s just to the lakeside of Molly Branigan’s. You’ve already brought some cool shops in there, and you have plans for other larger significant improvements. Can you tell our listeners a little bit more about that?

JOHN PERSINGER: Certainly. I just started to mention; when we were going through this process, we focused on mixed-use buildings. Mixed-used ground floor commercial, upper floor residential. For the upper floors, we thought it was really important to get more people living downtown. Downtown already has a lot of people already living there, but there are also a lot of people who work there 9-5 Monday through Friday, so it empties out on nights and weekends. We thought it was important to get more people living downtown. And then, with the ground floor commercial spaces, we wanted those to be showcases for the great talent in this community.

We again, if we want people to visit Erie. If we want them to invest in Erie, and move here; we have to give them an experience they can’t get anywhere else in the world. So we couldn’t just try to replicate upper Peach Street and put national franchises and chains in downtown, Because why come to downtown if it’s easier to get to peach street? And we couldn’t just replicate what they’re doing in the other big cities. We couldn’t have a mini time square in Erie, because why come to Erie if you can go to Times Square in New York City? So, we have to create that authentic Erie experience that you can’t get anywhere else in the world. And that means, showcasing the great local talent that we have in this community. I mentioned a couple of them already. Alexandria Ellis, who is she vintage, women’s boutique. Louis Geramita, who is Primo Tailoring. Emily has Point 4 women’s boutique. Emily Ernes is the new owner of Glass Girls Gallery, and there are going to be more pop-ups and shops to come. So, it’s really a cluster of some great retail shops. We opened them right before small business Saturday; the last year of 2021. We wanted people to know that you don’t need to go to Amazon to do your holiday shopping. You don’t need to go to Pittsburgh. You can come downtown and get some great local gifts. Support great local businesses and give people something that they can’t find anywhere else in the world.

TONY PEYRONEL:Now when I mentioned interviewing you for this show; one of the people who is a fanatic about the food hall, wanted me to see if we could get you to give up some of these future plans and if you might tell us what’s coming next. Beyond the restaurant and the Cashier’s House, and some of these other things you’ve mentioned; is there anything else that you can share with us about future plans?

JOHN PERSINGER: Well, the immediate future will see Flagship City Public Market opening on March 15th. So, Flagship Public Market is right on north park road. It will feature, formally known as Whole Foods co-op, now, Erie Food Co-op. They have about 5,000 square feet, and this will be their second location. Gordon’s Market will be offering steaks, and meats of all kinds, and some deli cuts. And then, Luminary Distilling; which is the first distillery in Erie County since Prohibition, will have a tasting room and bottle shop. We are scheduled to open that space on March 15th. And this is going to have an incredible impact. At the EDDC, we talk a lot about making an economic impact and a social impact. On the economic impact, we’re investing 100 million dollars into these projects across three blocks. That’s not 100 million dollars that’s given to a hedge fund manager in New York to invest in China. That’s 100 million dollars that’s paying for local tradesmen and tradeswomen. It’s buying steel from DH steel. Its paying generators supply to re-furnish historic wooden floors. So that is an incredible economic stimulus.

It is also returning a 14- times return on property taxes for the city, the school district, and the county. When we bought these buildings, we were paying 176,000 dollars in property taxes. We are a 501C3; a non-profit that is technically exempt from property taxes. But our board made the decision to pay property taxes. So we were paying 176 when we bought these buildings. When it's all said and done, we’ll be paying somewhere between 2.3 and 2.5 million dollars. So again, a 14 -times return for the city, county, and school district. That’s gonna help buy a lot more textbooks. Pave a lot more roads. Provide the social services that we need, without one single dollar of taxpayer money.

TONY PEYRONEL: Public school funding in Pennsylvania, that’s, the inequities, and that’s what you always hear business. They want to come off of the tax. They don’t want to pay, and the district has really suffered. I think of all the things you’ve done, I think you’ve really that sends a powerful message

JOHN PERSINGER:We think so, and we hope it’s a model that can be replicated not only across the area but across the entire country. We have a lot of folks watching what we are doing here. We have urban scholars. We were featured in the Wall Street journal. We won an award from Forbes magazine. And so, there’s a lot of other communities that are like Erie. There are more communities like Erie than there are like New York City. So we hope that we can be a model but, in addition to making an economic impact, we are a community organization. We are a charitable organization. And we also want to be making a social impact. Downtown is one of several U.S. department of agriculture designated food deserts. This means that the people who are living there, lack a stable supply of fresh, healthy food. We’ve talked about this as a community for decades. There hasn’t been a grocery store in downtown Erie in decades. And there’s been chatter about how we can address it, or solve it. But nothing has been done. And, shame on us for not doing something sooner.

But, that’s the past and I’m excited that we’re going to be opening the public market on March 15th. The vendors will accept snap and wick and any type of public benefits. So, regardless of your socioeconomic level, you can come and shop at that downtown grocery store. That’s going to make a huge impact. That is March 15th. We have, after that, Erie apparel, who I’m sorry to our friends at Erie apparel who I neglected to mention at the shops at 5th and State. Not because they are not loved. We’re so excited about them. They’re going to have a great corner space at 5th and State. When we were going through our wish list of ground-floor retail businesses, Erie Apparel was right at the top.

We can’t have an authentic Erie experience downtown, without having Erie Apparel downtown. And so, they’ll be opening later this spring. Cashier’s House will be opening later this spring. We have a 312- space parking garage opening in October of this year. One of the luxuries about being in Erie is that you get to drive door to door, and limit the amount of walking you need to do. And we knew if we were bringing in all these new shops, restaurants, and apartments, we needed parking. So the parking garage will come in October. Then we have 4 other construction projects that are underway right now. Two at one of the corners of 5th and State, which will feature a Zen climbing gym out of Pittsburgh. This will be their fourth location. And, they’ll have two floors, plus a three-story climbing wall. They will have these giant rock-climbing boulders. That three-story climbing wall which you can see from the street. It will also have some cardio equipment, free weights, and yoga studios. So, it will become a new downtown fitness hub. What’s great about them is they; attract visitors with their places in Pittsburgh. They get people to drive up to an hour away to come to visit. And with here, they’re thinking that we’ll get people up two hours. So people from Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, will come to down Erie because they want to try out the climbing gym. Once they’re down here, they’re not just going to get in their car and go home. They’ll go to the food hall. We hope they pick up some groceries from the market. We hope they’ll go to Erie Apparel to get a t-shirt. It has a spill-over effect. We have another building going up.

There are 36 apartments above the climbing gym. We another building that’s being constructed right now, that will go at the corner of 5th and Peach. There will be three retail spaces on the ground floor. Thirty apartments on the upper floors. And then we are finishing the middle of north park. Some of you may remember this as, Coconut Joe’s, or Resolution Nightclub. That block, the West North Park Row Historic District, is a historic district.

We work very closely with the National Park Service, which oversees the registry of historic places, and the Pennsylvania Historic Preservation office. We’ve also worked with two different historic preservation consulting groups. The National Park Service gave us a letter stating that; the bus depot, the former Resolution night club building, was that that block is a historic district. But the bus depot is not a contributing factor to the historic district. These are their words of art for historic preservation. To be in the district, it had to fall within the period of significance; which is between 1850 and 1870. That bus depot was built in 1939. From 1860 to 1939, the Park Opera House stood in that space. In 1939, it caught on fire. They tore it down. And as we learned during the excavation process, they didn’t actually excavate the foundation, they just dumped the bricks into the basement and paved over it. They were building these Greyhounds Bus stations around the country at the time and they built one right there, in the middle of the block. So we talked through this with the National Park Service and decided to go back to the historic period of significance. That 1850 to 1870 time period.

We’re putting in new buildings that will fit in the middle of that block. And what's unique about those buildings is there going to be a courtyard that sits in the middle of the building that has skylights. So it will be climate controlled. It will connect to the food hall at the East end of the block. And the market at the West end of the block. We will have this 4,000 square foot space, which will conserve spill-over seating for the market and the food hall. It can be an event space. We will program it with different events and activities. We’ve been hosting a live music series at the food hall. We’ll put public art in there. And most importantly, it’s another where you can come and meet up with someone.

As we know, Erie gets snow, and on one day, could be 50 degrees and rainy, or sunny. So, it’s very tough to have outdoor spaces and do events outside when you don’t know what the weather is going to be like. We thought if we had this indoor space, we could do events and it didn’t matter what the weather was like. So that’s the final projects; those two buildings we’re building new and restoring historic buildings on that block. And that should be finished near the middle of 2023. We talked about shocking the market, and one of the things that were important was to move with speed. And, we will have done these 100 million dollars in 3 years. It’s a total of 478,000 square feet.

The average home in Erie is about 2,000 square feet. So it’s the equivalent of working with 250 single-family homes. Completing turning them around in 3 years' time. There are about 100,000 square feet of commercial space. We’ve got room for 25 new businesses. With our partners, we’re projecting about 250 new jobs. That’s in addition to around 150 construction jobs that are down there, on any given day. There will be a 312- space parking garage. And then there will be 144 new residential units. Which will be a mixture of studios ones and twos. So, it’s quite a transformation on those three blocks and I think the board has been happy because they want to do more investing. We got to get through these projects, but it’s great momentum for Erie.

TONY PEYRONEL: That’s amazing, John, and I’m really delighted we were able to snag you for an interview in the middle of all that. You talk about partnerships.

JOHN PERSINGER: Can I tell your audience how diligent you were in staying on me? I felt so bad because we were recording at  Library and we’re on the Bayfront, and this is about as far as the board lets me go downtown. So I appreciate you coming to Erie and I apologize that I couldn’t get out to Edinboro.

TONY PEYRONEL: Well, that’s no problem. I wanted to circle back to not wanting to overlook Erie Apparel because Scott Glad who may be the most graphic designer in Erie, does a majority of the design work for those guys; for Erie Apparel. And we’re also fortunate to have, as our creative director in our Beehive at Edinboro. So we’re always happy to get a shoutout for Erie Apparel, for Scott Glad, for the whole gang. And again…

JOHN PERSINGER: I was going to say, not just Erie Apparel, but, Scott and the team created the logo for the Flagship City Food Hall. They created the logo for Flagships City Public Market. They’ve created the logo for our residential units. So, they’re such creatively talented individuals. We’ve been so fortunate to have them as partners in this. They’ve got a great eye, great talent, and really helped us create and embody what we’re trying to do; and that is, create a downtown that everyone can be proud of.

TONY PEYRONEL: And this leads nicely into my next question; because we are doing the recording today from Blasco, since John’s not allowed outside of downtown. And that’s great because the county library system is one of the partners in Northwest, PA Innovation Beehive Network. And usually, this is a part of the show where I’ll ask a guest because many of our guests are former clients and I’ll ask what their experience is like. You, John, are not a former Beehive client, but as your role as a leader in the economic development movement in Erie, you’re at least somewhat familiar with our work. What do you think of this collaboration between Edinboro, Mercyhurst, Gannon, Penn State Behrend, and the county library; what impact do you think it’s had on entrepreneurs and small businesses in the region?

JOHN PERSINGER: I think it’s had such a transformational impact because as we’ve talked about; cultivating an Erie experience, we can’t do that ourselves. We have to have great partners, and we have to find those great local businesses that really make up the identity, the fabric of the community. And so the support that you’re providing to these entrepreneurs is incredible. It is not easy to run a business, as we’ve gotten into the food hall business and the property management business. I can testify firsthand at how difficult it is to start a business. And hats off to all these entrepreneurs that you’re working with I’m excited for the future of Erie because it just doesn’t happen overnight. And I hope people keep that in mind; is that we need to keep plugging away and working at entrepreneurship. And taking on this role, I’ve taken a look at communities all across the world to figure out what they’ve done to be successful, in either; re-vitalizing or re-inventing themselves.

It is very difficult to try and attract a new business. To try and steal a business from another location. Because those businesses, they are, they grow roots in a community. And the communities that have done better, have had great cultures of entrepreneurship because those individuals that; just as long as they’re growing roots elsewhere when they develop from a community they set their own roots down, and then it’s tough for them to get uprooted. So we need more entrepreneurs starting businesses, trying businesses, and in some instances, failing businesses because we all learn from those experiences. But we need to keep trying because that’s what is needed to keep pushing the community forward. So thank you for doing this and on a personal note; I always loved coming down to the library. They do a great job here. We got an 11-year-old, a 9-year-old, and a 7-year-old. They are fantastic readers. And I think as to why that’s a big part of today is because we’ve spent many, particularly winter days, coming down here and going through all the books. So it’s great to be here and I appreciate all the work that you do.

TONY PEYRONEL: This is another place where, if you had to bring the kids with you, this is a location you certainly could. Plenty for them to do while Dad talked on the microphone for a while. Well for my next question, John, I’d like to step outside of the pure economic development focus and into the political arena. Before becoming part of EDDC, you ran against Joe Schember in the Erie mayoral race. One of the refreshing parts of that campaign was that you and the current mayor were actually friends and neighbors, and actually, both ran positive campaigns. You used the term naive earlier, and I’m going to use it here. Please tell me that is not naive for me to think that the work that the two of you now do together, for the betterment of Erie, can serve as an example for the rest of the country that politics and governing don’t have to be polarized or even tribal.

JOHN PERSINGER: It makes a big difference when you have to look at your neighbor every day to how to treat someone. Smartphones have certainly improved all our lives, but I think they’ve fueled some of the polarization because now people go online and they yell at other people who they will never see in day-to-day life. But when you have to see your neighbor every day, that was the case with Mayor Schember. When we were running, we saw each other probably every day during the campaign. And then on Sunday afternoons, we’d both be out cutting our grass at the same time. And that makes a really big difference because then, you know the person, you know their family, you know their friends, you know their extended networks.

You also know that you have to live in the same community and the decisions that he makes at city hall, affect what we’re doing. The things that we’re doing downtown, affect him. We are all in this together. You can’t have in any community; the public sector doing all the work and you can’t have the private sector doing all the work. Really, everyone has to be engaged in the community. And so, we’ve gotten great support from the mayor and his team. They’ve referred several businesses to us. We’ve referred several businesses to them in terms of who made need some financial support.

So it’s been a great working relationship and I was just trading emails with him this morning actually, to come and do a ribbon-cutting for the market. So, we’re fortunate, and this is a credit to him, that when I took this role; he wasn’t an ambitious, cutting politician who didn’t want me doing my work because he was maybe afraid or worried that I was going to run against him the future. He really welcomed me with open arms and we do meet once a month. Mainly so we can keep him updated on everything that we’re doing, so he’s aware and not caught off guard. And often when there are areas that we can collaborate together. So this goes back to what an exciting time this is for the community. And it’s really a change from years past; where we were a bit more fragmented, a bit more siloed. I’m hoping it continues in this direction. It requires leadership. We got great leadership on our board. Our board president is Tim DeCastro, who’s the CEO of Erie Insurance. But we have all the CEOs of all the major banks, all the major universities, all of the major hospital systems. Some of the major manufacturers, and there’s really a big commitment to Erie right now. And, it’s on all of us to make sure this momentum continues forward.

TONY PEYRONEL: Great. Well, we’ve talked about a lot, John. But I’m going to close our interview with the same question I ask all of our guests. And that is, is there anything else at all that you would like to share with our listeners?

JOHN PERSINGER: This is just a start. Come down today and you’ll visit the food hall. You’ll visit some great retail shops. But keep coming down, because it’s changing. You can see it in the new construction going up. Those buildings will go up pretty quickly and we’ll have some more shops, more amenities in just a few months. And more than you just coming down, bring someone with you and even beyond that? Invite someone to come and visit Erie. Show them what’s happening here. We are sitting right here looking out on one of the great lakes. Such a national treasure, which we are blessed to have through pure providence. No ingenuity on our own. And so we should get more people to come and visit Erie because we got a gem here and it’s an exciting time, and I think the years ahead are just going to get even more exciting.

TONY PEYRONEL: Well, thanks so much for chatting with us.

JOHN PERSINGER: Thank you for having me.

NARRATOR: You can find the NWPA Innovation Beehive Network on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn by searching NWPA Beehive. The Beehive is made up of five grant-funded centers that collaborate to encourage business growth in the Erie area and beyond. The Centers work together to form the Hive Network while each location operates in its own specialized area of expertise. The Erie County Public Library, Penn State Behrend, Edinboro University, Gannon University, and Mercyhurst University are each responsible for a specific service. You can contact any of us at

You’ve been listening to Buzz Generated. This podcast was released through Edinboro University’s Center for Branding and Strategic Communication. It's produced by Chris Lantinen and Thomas Taylor. Thank you to our guest for their insight, and to you, our listeners, for taking the time to experience innovation alongside us.

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