As I travel around Erie County, I see unmistakable signs of progress. What I see reinforces my conviction that the state of Erie County is strong – and growing stronger.

So as I speak about the state of Erie County, it is important to consider not just where we are, but also where we have been and where we are going.

When it comes to where we have been, I can’t help but think about Erie’s bayfront 20 years ago.

Some of you might remember the debate that was raging in the mid-1990s about the new location of the Erie County Public Library.

Blasco Library was being built on a bayfront that was unsightly and unwelcoming. Many citizens called the site a disastrous choice.

But local leaders had a vision – a vision for what the waterfront could and should be.

Ultimately, Blasco Library became a change agent for the bayfront, an anchor that sparked the transformation that soon followed.

Fast-forward to today. Erie’s bayfront is a welcoming space for residents and visitors alike, and it is recognized as an essential component in a broader, region-wide revitalization.

That brings us to where we are now.

As a county, we finally are sharing one vision and speaking with one voice.

We have come together to create and implement comprehensive plans for our region, our communities, and our neighborhoods.

Thanks to those plans, our urban core is undergoing a transformation.

Local partners have come together to create the Erie Innovation District, a hub for the emerging tech industry.

Businesses and private organizations have pledged more than $21 million to create the Erie Downtown Development Corporation.

And we are seeing evidence of more than half a billion dollars in new construction projects.

The City of Erie, guided by the Erie Refocused comprehensive plan, is forging a new future.

This revitalization, sparked by Emerge 2040, is also occurring in surrounding communities – Millcreek and Summit, Edinboro and Albion.

I can say with confidence that this regional momentum is shaping our future and determining where we are going.

Through collaboration and innovation, we are rebuilding Erie County. And in county government, we are championing change that promises to revitalize every community in every corner of our county.

To guide us in that process, we rely on the Emerge 2040 plan – a blueprint established by the input of thousands of residents, like you, who spoke up and identified the most pressing needs.

County government is working to do our part to fulfill the vision that you, the citizens, set forth.

The Erie County Planning Department has been at the forefront of the development of plans that are leading our municipalities into that future.

The Erie County Department of Human Services is working to aid our most vulnerable citizens, including finding innovative strategies to combat the opioid epidemic.

The Erie County Department of Public Safety has improved communications countywide, helping first responders keep all residents and visitors safe.

The Erie County Department of Health has been a community leader in supporting whole-body health for our entire community – including through a collaboration to bring the Blue Zones Project here.

And the Erie County Public Library – the epicenter of debate 20 years ago – remains a force for change in our community, most recently with the addition of the Idea Lab.

Just like the brick-and-mortar Blasco changed the bayfront landscape two decades ago, the Idea Lab promises to help change our economy. As a resource for all citizens, it serves as an entry point to the innovation that is taking root in our community.

That entrepreneurial spirit is essential to our economic future, playing an equal role with our efforts to shore up our industries and train our workers. In these things, too, Erie County has been a leader.

We have set young people onto career paths with the Summer Jobs and More program.

We have partnered with other agencies to create Up For the Job – a unified, one-stop shop for businesses looking for a great place to locate.

And we have answered the call of our employers by supporting a proposed Erie County Community College.

Let’s be honest – some of these initiatives have ushered in public debate, just as the Blasco Library did two decades ago.

Now, as then, we must remain committed to a vision for a more vibrant community, and we must follow the Emerge 2040 blueprint that will help us get there.

We also must guard against forces within ourselves that could threaten progress.

Will we be paralyzed by indecision or fear of the unknown, or will we step forward and embrace this vision for our future?

Will we be mired in the missteps of the past, or will we allow our community – our county – to emerge into the thriving place we imagined?

Will we continue to operate in individual siloes, separated from our neighbors? Or will we unite in common purpose to build a better Erie County?

These decisions are up to each one of us.

We have seen where we’ve been.

We know where we are.

And we have envisioned what we want to become – a place that we are proud to call home, and a place that offers a vibrant future for our children and grandchildren.

Let us come together to realize that goal. Let us not be afraid to dream big – and to demand the best for our community.

It is only together – as committed partners, as engaged citizens, as neighbors and friends – that we can truly move Erie County forward.