11 Up-and-Coming Cities in Pennsylvania That Deserve a Second Look

These Pennsylvania cities offer an affordable cost of living, amazing job opportunities and an endless list of fun things to do.

By
Brittany Anas
On Monday, August 17, 2020 - 16:21
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The secret’s out (or about to be!) that some of Pennsylvania’s historic cities make for great modern-day living. Residents find much to enjoy in communities small in size but big on personality, whether it’s savoring the farm-to-table eats and sips in Gettysburg, soaking in Erie’s lakeside views or hiking in the postcard-perfect Pine Greek Gorge as the leaves change to fiery reds and brilliant shades of orange each fall. 

Affordable home prices, top-notch schools and economic incentives for entrepreneurs sweeten the deal even more for those considering relocating to one of these cities in the Keystone State. 

Here are 11 up-and-coming cities in Pennsylvania that deserve a second look:

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Gettysburg

Population: 7,633

History buffs already know this southern Pennsylvania city for its ties to the Civil War and its abundance of historically significant landmarks, including the Gettysburg National Military Park. When you live here, you can fill up your weekends with field trips whether it’s a self-guided tour on two wheels with the help of the Civil War Cycling guidebook, watching re-enactments, visiting the David Wills House where Abraham Lincoln stayed prior to delivering the Gettysburg Address or getting into the Halloween spirit with a candlelit ghost tour.

Beyond history, though, locals have a deep appreciation for Gettysburg’s farmers markets and fruit orchards, as well as the community’s many locally made ciders, beers, wines and farm-to-table restaurants. With a low crime rate, affordable education and close proximity to bigger cities like Harrisburg, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, Gettysburg is making a name for itself not just as a tourist destination, but also an up-and-coming great place to live. Oh, and to sweeten the deal, did we mention Adams County has a Pie Trail?

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Warren 

Population: 9,478

Thanks to an oil boom in the 1860s, Warren was once home to the most millionaires per capita in Pennsylvania and many of their stately mansions still stand as a reminder. Now, as the gateway to the Allegheny National Forest, newcomers here recognize this northwestern Pennsylvania community  for its geographic wealth. With 21 parks spread out over 180 acres, Warren’s backyard is no doubt impressive. Here, residents enjoy swimming, water skiing, boating and fishing in the Allegheny Reservoir — and a sunset hike along the Rimrock Overlook Trail is a local rite of passage. With a diverse economy, affordable homes that no longer require an oil tycoon’s salary and enough trails in the region for a different hike every weekend, Warren is becoming a draw for active professionals.

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Wellsboro

Population: 3,233

Wellsboro is an emerging destination for everyone from recent grads to retirees, as it is home to a Pennsylvania College of Technology campus and active senior center. A small town in north central Pennsylvania with a friendly vibe, Wellsboro is one of the region’s most beautiful places to live, thanks in part to the Pine Creek Gorge, also known as “The Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania.” The 47-mile long, 1,000-foot deep gorge in the untamed wilderness was carved out during the Ice Age. With homes in town, rural subdivisions and farms, Wellsboro also offers diverse real estate options at many different price points. Looking for holiday magic? Look no further. Christmas on Main Street, complete with Victorian markets and a Dickens-themed festival, is a beloved celebration that rivals the charm of any Hallmark movie set.

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Chambersburg 

Population: 21,029

Chambersburg’s historic downtown is a hub of activity, hosting art walks, history tours and an outdoor summer movie series, as well as unique festivals throughout the year. Consider a bib a necessary part of the attire at the summer Crabfeast, which is an all-you-can-eat hard shell crab festival. Come winter, 30 tons of ice is meticulously carved into sculptures that decorate downtown for IceFest. Chambersburg is an up-and-coming destination for entrepreneurs and small business owners who can benefit from several loan programs, tax credits and grants for doing business in the area. As the county seat for Franklin County, Chambersburg is also home to several businesses, which eases the job search for newcomers. Victorian architecture and the Memorial Fountain in the center of the square serve up the charm. 

Saint Marys

Population: 12,359

Founded in 1842 by a group of Bavarian Catholics who were escaping religious persecution, St. Marys is known for its historic churches and antique shops. But it’s got another amenity that draws visitors from far and wide: The Eternal Tap at The Straub Brewery, which is a source of free(!) beer. The historic brewery dates back to 1872 and is the third oldest in the U.S. Today, it’s known for its classic American lagers and rotating cast of seasonal brews, in addition to the complimentary beer flowing from its famous tap. The region’s established industrial base means a steady flow of job opportunities, too: a staggering 40% of the world’s powdered metal parts are produced here, with supporting companies like machine shops and recycling centers thriving as well. Want to pave your own way with a new business or startup? The St. Marys area is well positioned for future growth. Local tax abatement, loan funds, job training opportunities and industrial parks can help set up your career for success. Another perk of living here: you’ll have some unique neighbors. The area is home to Pennsylvania’s elk herd. You’ll see them throughout the region and hear them bugling in late summer.

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Lititz

Population: 9,458

Hands-on pretzel-twisting lessons at Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery, a weekly farmers market with chef demonstrations and live music, plus festivals at the Lititz Springs Park are all part of the reason this Lancaster County community is nicknamed “The Coolest Small Town in America.” With a well-preserved historic downtown, Lititz is a draw for tourists and daytrippers, but the historic homes influenced by English, German and Victorian architecture styles certainly make it a picturesque place to live. On the second Friday of the month in Lititz, shops stay open late with live music, artists and entertainers, adding to the fun downtown. For those looking to relocate here, Lititz is also home to some major employers, including Johnson & Johnson, Wilbur Chocolate and Atomic Design. And whether you love state-of-the-art performances or want to pursue a career in live events, Lititz is the place to be: production company Rock Lititz anchors a vibrant live events/entertainment technology cluster that puts Lititz innovation at the forefront of every facet of live events, from set design to audio engineering to lighting.

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Waynesboro

Population: 10,731

Once a major stopover between Baltimore and Pittsburgh, Waynesboro became a spot for rapid growth during the Industrial Revolution. The Franklin County community was bustling with tool and machine makers, and railroad resorts for travelers popped up alongside homes. Today, young professionals are falling for the charm of the historic homes that fill the area, and, armed with restoration prowess, are giving old buildings some TLC. Once again, location is a major advantage for the economy in Waynesboro and the surrounding region. With proximity to Interstate 81, the county is well-connected to major metropolitan regions and has a diverse economy with manufacturing, health care, education, retail and hospitality sectors. The area’s year-over-year job growth has increased 1.8 percent and wage growth has gone up 2.8 percent. Judging by the increase in home values (they’ve gone up 9% in the last year alone), more people are finding out about Waynesboro and its modern shops, golf courses and fantastic food scene

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Courtesy of Doug Kerr under a CC 2.0 license.

Easton 

Population: 27,216

Move here and you’ll earn lots of bragging rights: Easton is believed to be the site of the first Christmas tree, has the oldest continuously operating open-air market in the country and is home to Crayola crayons. (You can make your own crayon and name it at the Crayola Experience). Situated at the confluence of the Delaware and Lehigh rivers, the Lehigh Valley region is recognized as one of the fastest-growing in the country and offers access to major cities like New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. — yet you can live here for a fraction of the price. You’ll get a sense for the creative energy in Easton as new businesses have been opening up in renovated industrial spaces. The region is also home to world-class health care, several colleges and universities and a network of trails.

West Chester 

Population: 18,461

Greek Revival architecture on High Street earned West Chester the nickname “Athens of Pennsylvania.” In addition to being an architectural gem, West Chester boasts dozens of boutiques and award-winning restaurants, plus family-friendly attractions, like a historic train you can ride. Residents here can benefit from being neighbors with West Chester University, which hosts theatrical productions, concerts and sporting events and lends a youthful vibe to a historic city, located about 35 miles west of Philadelphia. The shopping network QVC is based in West Chester, and the city is home to numerous small businesses. Plus, residents enjoy easy access to both Wilmington, Delaware, and Philadelphia, making it a draw for those who appreciate the slower pace and sense of community of a small city, but want easy access to larger ones.

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Erie

Population: 98,835

A lot of cities claim to have it all, but this lakeside gem actually does: beautiful natural areas, beaches, historical sites, fantastic food, a vibrant arts scene, career opportunities, tight-knit community and charm galore. Phew — did you get all that? Erie is home to established industries like manufacturing, but the economy is growing and evolving, bringing many new opportunities in sectors like technology, health care, hospitality and higher education. A business-friendly local government encourages entrepreneurs to set up shop here with financial assistance and various avenues of support from the community. The bottom line? Erie is a wonderful place to grow. And while there’s plenty to do in Erie proper, residents also enjoy easy access to an impressive list of other places: Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Cleveland are all within about 100 miles and offer museums, professional sports and a bounty of other weekend getaway activities.

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Lock Haven

Population: 9,108

Located in the valley of the Susquehanna River’s West Branch, Lock Haven’s downtown is going through an impressive revitalization, with incentives for new businesses to set up shop. Those who love to stay active will be impressed by the full calendar of events that take place in Lock Haven, which is becoming a renowned spot for runners thanks to races like the Boulder Beast, a challenging 25-mile trail run. On weekends, go for a picnic, hike or, come winter, go cross-country skiing in Upper Pine Bottom State Park then grab a burger and beer at the 20-seat community table at Odd Fellas, which serves craft burgers and brings the community together. The city is also home to Lock Haven University, and you can cheer on the Bald Eagles at sporting events.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brittany Anas is a former newspaper reporter who accidentally became a federal background investigator before quickly retreating back to journalism.