Chester is a small city of 34,000 residents located 15 miles south of Philadelphia on the banks of the Delaware River. Once a major manufacturing center, Chester has experienced long-term economic decline beginning in the 1950s. It lost over half of its population between 1950 and 2010. Today the city has high vacancy rates, crime, and poverty, and low rates of educational attainment.
Prior to SC2, Chester embarked on an economic development strategy that attracted several high-profile developments, including Harrah’s Casino, a soccer stadium, and a major office building along the waterfront. The city also benefits from its position along a busy transportation corridor and as the home of two long-standing anchor institutions, Widener University and the Crozer-Keystone Medical Center. Nevertheless, Chester has struggled to leverage these assets to the benefit of the community as a whole.
Chester is unique among SC2 pilot cities in that it went through a change in mayoral leadership between the time it was selected for SC2 and the time the SC2 team began working in the city. The new mayor shifted the focus of the community’s revitalization strategy from business recruitment to human and social services. While the 2011 election presented new opportunities for Chester, it represented a challenge for the SC2 team in that the city’s priorities for the engagement shifted within months of the team’s arrival on site. It also led to delays in implementation as the SC2 team established a new working relationship with city leaders. These challenges are discussed in greater detail in Section A1.3 below.