It’s that time of year again — leaves are turning brilliant colors of red, orange and yellow; the air is becoming cooler; and pumpkin-flavored food and drinks are around every corner.
If there’s any town in America that does fall right, it’s Circleville, Ohio.
Known as “the greatest free show on earth,” Circleville’s Pumpkin Show has been a tradition for more than a century, starting in 1903. Each year, nearly 400,000 visitors flock to Circleville to watch the giant pumpkin weigh-in, see the pumpkin parade and try to snag a piece of the festival’s huge pumpkin pie, weighing over 400 pounds and reaching six feet in diameter.
The Pumpkin Show has been featured on National Geographic, NBC’s Today show, and even on Japanese television and magazines. Just this year, it was named by USA Today and 10Best as the No. 1 fall harvest festival in America.
The Pumpkin Show is part of Circleville’s DNA — even the water tower is painted to look like a pumpkin. However, despite all its success, Circleville is striving to prove it’s more than just the home of the world’s best Pumpkin Show.
“Many residents believe we are America’s best-kept secret,” said Ryan Scribner, economic development director at Pickaway Progress Partnership. “Circleville is a great place not only to raise a family, but to invest in and grow a business. It’s a friendly, collaborative community where everyone works together to achieve our common goals.”
This community support has helped Circleville through tough times. Globalization and technological advancements in the 1990s and 2000s took a significant negative toll on Circleville, causing plants to dramatically reduce their workforce or close altogether. One of the town’s biggest factories was forced to close and laid off 1,200 workers overnight when its products became obsolete.
“Circleville was in a recession before the rest of the world,” Scribner said. “Plant closures resulted in the loss of thousands of jobs, and unemployment peaked at about 14 percent.”
That’s when the fighting spirit of Circleville kicked in.
As factories closed, the community began to take those losses and turn them into positives. Instead of obstacles and challenges, they now see opportunities and untapped potential.
“We rallied and have begun to see results from our collaborative efforts in terms of lower unemployment, increased baccalaureate attainment and greater average household income,” Scribner said.
Local officials and the new owner of a former factory site have created a financial partnership to redevelop the property into the Pickaway Progress Park, a 27-acre industrial park attracting local, state and private funding.
The Pickaway Progress Partnership was awarded a $3.5 million Job Ready Site grant for the project in July 2010, and those dollars are funding roadways, sewer and water on the site. The previous owner had torn down the old manufacturing facility, leaving a 167,000-square-foot warehouse/manufacturing facility and 10,000-square-foot class-A office space. The property is being marketed as a mixed-use development: industrial, retail and residential. This development will allow Circleville to attract major new businesses.
At the same time, local leaders are focused on creating an environment that will support entrepreneurs and facilitate the growth of small businesses. The community broke ground this summer on an entrepreneurial and economic innovation center on the Ohio Christian University campus.
“When it’s operational, the center will provide a first of its kind, cutting-edge environment within a multi-county region that fosters early stage businesses and collaboration with universities, researchers and other groups from within and outside the area,” Scriber said.
With its momentum building, Circleville has used the America’s Best Communities competition as an impetus to ramp up its work. Through a series of meetings with ABC planning teams, focus groups and public surveys, Circleville’s vision for the community revitalization plan has become clear.
“We know now that the community desires more jobs, more entertainment, more housing opportunities, a more vibrant downtown, a better connection with growth in the agricultural sector and a better-educated workforce,” Scribner explained.
With its strong commitment to progress, change and community, Circleville is confident it can move into the future and set itself apart as one of America’s best.
To learn more about Circleville, Ohio, visit www.ci.circleville.oh.us or follow the city on Facebook and Twitter. And for more on Circleville’s Pumpkin Show, which this year runs from October 21 to 24, go to www.pumpkinshow.com.