Since moving to Johnstown in February to serve as president/CEO of Vision Together 2025, the hot question most people ask when they discover I hail from out west is, “Why did you move to Johnstown?”

Courtesy of The Tribune-Democrat, I’ll be providing regular columns on all things greater Johnstown and what Vision Together 2025 is doing to help make our community even better.

Coming out of the gates, allow me to outline all the reasons why I chose to move to Johnstown.

Urban authenticity

Desirable places are desirable because each has a strong sense of place.

What developers of energetic hipster neighborhoods in high-growth metros try to recreate is a recipe Johnstown neighborhoods – the ones mostly inside the city – already execute to near perfection. The difference is that new neighborhoods in high-growth metros are so contrived and over-planned that they don’t feel authentic.

Johnstown doesn’t suffer from a lack of urban authenticity, and we’re already doing what developers from across the country try to emulate.

It won’t be long until the hipster masses discover us. And, guess what?

When they do, they’ll be moving to downtown or Moxham or Cambria City or West End or (name that historic neighborhood) because these are the places in the metro that have the most character.

Recreation options

Johnstown is ever so close to economically transitioning into a recreation hub. It’s astonishing how many recreational amenities of all types and all skill levels are available to us.

Check the boxes: Mountain biking, whitewater rafting, kayaking, skiing, trails aplenty, mountains, rivers and lakes. Additionally, local leaders have significant plans in place to improve and amplify our recreational assets.

As places such as Durango and Vail, Colorado, and Moab, Utah, were once dependent on the old economy but transitioned into world-renowned recreation destinations, so, too, will Johnstown.

City school district

One need not shop for school districts within Greater Johnstown because GJSD is the best school district in the metro. District leaders overcome more challenges than any other district, yet still compete head-to-head with neighboring schools.

In recent years, for instance, the GJSD has successfully graduated more than 100 seniors who earned their associate’s degrees during their four years in high school. The cost is paid by the GJSD and transportation is provided.

The college credits easily transfer, saving students time and their families thousands of dollars toward earning a bachelor’s degree.

An arts Mecca

We’re terrible at tooting our own horn. Johnstown is an arts town but nobody outside of a 20-mile radius knows it.

Bottle Works, Steeples Project, Creator Square, Gallery on Gazebo, Community Arts Center – and the very long list goes on and on.

Speaking of tooting horns, the chairperson for the Johnstown Symphony Orchestra toots a French one. The music director won a Grammy, the executive director is a former opera singer and, oh yeah, her husband has a Ph.D. in playing the piano. I’d submit the Johnstown Symphony Orchestra to the Pepsi Challenge against any ensemble in the world.

There’s a secret sauce that revitalizes old Rust Belt cities. One of the ingredients is an active and organic arts scene, another is affordable housing, and another is urban authenticity.

Sprinkle with polka and pierogies and we quietly have ourselves an international arts destination.

Quality of life

Here’s where we mention the easy, obvious stuff. Affordability, quick commutes, low crime, great schools, neighbors that are always willing to help – the fundamentals. Johnstown has them.

Vision Together 2025 works in tandem with community leaders and civic organizations toward building a better Johnstown. When outsiders experience our community for the first time, what they don’t see is the years of planning that is in place and presently being implemented to transform Johnstown into a 21st century city.

Vision Together 2025’s ambitious plans address everything from early childhood development to the bricks and mortar of a modern city. The hard work has already been accomplished. Now it’s time for action steps.

It’s been 80 years since the U.S. Census recorded a population increase for Cambria County. Let’s show the outside world what a 21st century Johnstown looks like.

Mike Tedesco is president and CEO of Vision Together 2025, a consortium of government, business and philanthropic leaders within greater Johnstown dedicated to improving our community.

Mike Tedesco is President and CEO of Vision Together 2025, a consortium of government, business, and philanthropic leaders within greater Johnstown dedicated to improving our community.

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