Benefit #1: Tons of really smart people
Outside of coming to school here, it is the people of the community that keeps me here. Although not the most diverse place I've lived, it isn't unusual to hear 4-5 languages while crossing town. I love that! State College is probably the most informed place I've lived when it comes to current events and history. The conversations you'll have here are at a much higher level than most places in the country.
Challenge #1: Lots of smart friends moving away
Smart people tend to have a lot of employment options. The problem is that the majority of them that pay a competitive wage are not here. It is tough to listen to your friends in larger metro areas be able to job hop and quickly build up their salary level.
Frankly, I wish the local business community would do a better job of trying to retain students by making a compelling argument on why they should stay. Not every student is looking to escape to NYC, Philly, Pittsburgh or DC when they graduate. Pooling funds and effort to make a strong push for new graduates would be ideal. Also a growing a foothold in 2-3 niches (i.e. medical, tech, robotics) where you have 3-4 companies competing for talent would be ideal.
Benefit #2: Great walkable neighborhoods
One thing I really love about State College is that I can walk most anywhere if I have the time. It is a well-regarded bicycle friendly town as well. There has been some chipping away at this walkable and bicycle friendly city though in much of the construction on the outskirts of town with big box stores that are more car dependent to get to. All and all, if you live near downtown you can go weeks without driving and the CATA bus system is pretty good.
Challenge #2: Expensive housing market
New housing construction is mainly for luxury student housing and monstrosity family homes. It is really difficult to save a down-payment and pay the mortgage if you're a single person making less than $50,000/year. According to Zillow at this very moment there are only 25 properties under $150,000 within shouting distance of State College and many of them are run down. This leaves you with the options of renting an older apartment, having roommates or buying a home 30 minutes plus away from State College where most of the jobs are located. The problem with much of the new rental projects going up is they all have hidden costs associated with them such as amenity fees forcing you to pay an extra $100 a month for a clubhouse and pool you'll rarely use.
Benefit #3: Tight-knit business community
A benefit of a community that teeters between city and town is that most people that have been here a while know each other in the business community. They know where each other stand and there isn't a lot of wasted time feeling each other out to reach higher goals. It is a most-friendly and helpful collection of people that work with a smile and eye to the greater good.
Challenge #3: Lack of competitiveness between local companies for talent
I touched on this above, but this is the greatest hurdle I deal with as a 30-something that has spent his whole career in sports and tourism. There are really only about three places I can work locally within my industry and at one point or another I've worked for all three. None of the three came out of this COVID-19 looking great. This experience is common for many young people looking to drive up their earning potential. If you get another job offer to take back to your employer to match it usually necessitates a move. The other option is you have to switch and learn a whole new industry.
Benefit #4: Above-average restaurant and nightlife scene
This is something I don't think State College and the surrounding community get enough credit for. There are some really talented chefs and great places to eat in our back yard. Just walking downtown you'll find well over a dozen nationalities of food catering to a diverse university tied community. Those of us that do enjoy going to large cities to eat can usually find something comparable here in State College. The nightlife is largely built for the university, but it is enjoyed by the community as a whole. In a lot of smaller destinations everything closes at 8 PM or 10 PM. Luckily for us, you can find a great bite to eat really up until about midnight.
Challenge #4: Many jobs are hourly service based
This is the downside of having a strong service community outside of the university. It is tough to pay rent or a mortgage on $10-$12/hour jobs unless you're driving in from quite a distance. In the best of times many restaurants and small businesses have had trouble finding people to fill vacancies. "Well, what about the students?" you ask. Many students believe that in today's day in age where you can't work summers to pay off your tuition any longer, it is better to just fall into debt and invest your time in building your resume for a career position than spend time working 20-30 hours a week in a pay my rent position.
Benefit #5: Four seasons
If you're someone that loves a diverse set of seasons, this is your place. Spring usually pops out in late April and is really beautiful throughout the region. Summer typically tops out in the 80's and is wonderful to go to local pools, state parks to cool off with friends or go pick strawberries. Fall shows off a rich collection of colors and we go 107,000 strong in Beaver Stadium for Penn State Football. Oh and....
Challenge #5: One of those seasons is winter
Winters here are long....I mean like five months long. For someone that hates cold weather, every year's winter is brutally long. We lucked out a bit this 2019-2020 winter with minimal snow fall and mild temperatures, but that isn't the norm.
Benefit #6: Proximity to the great outdoors and a very active community
State College is hands down the most athletic and active place I've ever lived. There are always people out jogging, working out, hiking the trails, skiing, playing rec sports and going for a walk. What is nice is you can go from your desk in the middle of downtown to a hiking trail in the middle of nature in less than 15 minutes. It is a major reason why people move to this region.
Challenge #6: Lack of proximity to diverse shopping
The remoteness is also a challenge. We have your basic big box stores like Target, Wal-Mart, Barnes & Noble and Old Navy. There is also a large collection of small business that you should spend time in. What is challenging, and it is a damned-if-you-do or damned-if-you-don't situation, is that there are no close outlet malls to this region. A true shopping trip involves going to Grove City, PA or Lancaster, PA to the outlets. If you're really looking for high-end or urban design it necessitates a 3-4 hour drive to DC, Pittsburgh or Philly. Also the fashion capital of North America, New York City, is less than five hours away.
About the Author
Andy Rupert is a Penn State (B.A. John Curley Center for Sports Journalism 08') and a Southern Miss (M.S. Sport Management 09'). He has spent his whole career working in sports and tourism digital marketing and metrics.