Our view: Area economy turning toward the future

Not to overshadow the fact that today is Earth Day, a good time to reflect on all things ecological and sustainable, but there was big news in retail locally this week, as two more iconic chains contract, their stores disappearing from Wyoming Valley.

Toys R Us, the chain that practically invented specialized big box retailing, announced earlier that it is throwing in the towel and closing local stores. Time is running out to get those end-of-an-era discounts at the outlet on Kidder Street. This week we also learned the Bon Ton is bidding bye bye and Sears is saying sayonara at the Wyoming Valley Mall across the street.

Sears? Say it isn’t so! True, you have to be an old timer to remember it, but Sears was the king of childhood dreams, that Iconic “Wish Book” came in the mail each year pregnant with hopes for kids across the country as they zeroed in on the toys section when Christmas neared. Maybe a Stretch Armstrong? A Matchbox City in a suitcase? A Strawberry Shortcake doll?

Alas, these once-mighty merchants have been laid low, left behind by the disruptive force of online ordering and all things e-tail. While Toys R Us and Bon Ton are expected to become mere footnotes in the folio of financial titans, Sears at least braves on for now. Indeed, it announced a return of the Wish Book last fall, apparently in hopes of resuscitating business with a dose of nostalgia updated for the Internet age.

But three stores shuttered in a matter of months can’t help but leave a dent in the local job market, prompting the obvious question of what can we do?

Job seekers may find a helping hand at the Times Leader Media Group’s Career Fair from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday at Genetti’s Hotel and Convention Center in Wilkes-Barre.

Well, as readers can see in next Sunday’s Innovation special section — an annual feature — the area already is doing something.

It is several magnitudes harder than turning an aircraft carrier around in a hurricane, but the region has spent the last decade or so in earnest trying to shake the last of the coal dust off the area economy, re-inventing the local economic engine by, well, inventing.

It wasn’t so long ago we had zero high-tech business incubators. Now we have several, and the number is growing. And they have generated serious success stories.

In the past our colleges and universities had their hands full just handling the steady increase of enrollment of people seeking employ in traditional jobs; now they are active partners in pursuing real research and innovation that will become next year’s business disputers. They are also partnering with other institutions to expand opportunities.

Three years ago when officials announced the creation of what would become the Wilkes-Barre “Think Center” — one of many new efforts highlighted in next Sunday’s special section — the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce CEO quipped that our region is “very much like Silicon Valley. Only a lot less expensive.”

We may not be there yet, but the stories in Innovation show that this area may finally have stopped looking at, and bemoaning, the past, and started building a solid foundation for the future.

– Times Leader