Pike’s economic progress hailed

By Peter Becker Managing Editor

Pike County Economic Development 2015 awards were given to five companies, Wednesday night. From left: Justin Moon, CEO, Kahr Arms; Theresa H. Butler, CEO, Middletown Community Health Center; Garry Merritt (co-owner), All Fresh Farms and Paul Wiebel and his sons Robert and PJ (CEO), of Econo-Pak Packaging. Management from LP Cylinder Service, Inc., was unable to attend. News Eagle photo by Peter Becker

TAFTON – Representing at least 718 new jobs in Pike County, six companies that either recently relocated or expanded here were honored September 30th by the Pike County Economic Development Authority (EDA).

Bright and shining examples of hope and due diligence of addressing what had been a low point in Pike’s economic forecast only a few years ago, EDA’s Executive Director Michael E. Sullivan spoke of the challenges, strategies and opportunities for Pike’s success. The forum was the annual EDA dinner at Ehrhardt’s Waterfront Resort.

Firms honored included LP Cylinder Service, Inc., Route 6 Shohola Township, adding 37 jobs; Kahr Arms, which purchased the Pike County Business Park in Blooming Grove Township, opening August 11 and planning to add 67 jobs; All Fresh Farms, a hydroponic vegetable facility opening in Greene Township and planning 200 jobs; Econo-Pak Packaging, which relocated early last year to Milford Township, employing about 400 people (196 being from Pike County) and Middletown Community Health Center which opened a facility in Milford in 2014, employing 14 persons with more expected as the center grows.

••• Business deals

Keynote speaker was Michael Brubaker, former PA Senator and now CEO of Blackford Ventures, LLC., Lancaster County. He spoke on their strategies for making investments and closing business deals. He stressed that business acquisition was 80 percent about the people involved and 20 percent about the business. Essential qualities include intelligence, integrity; staying focused; following through and finalizing a deal in a timely manner. Staying optimistic and making a solution simple are also key to their strategy.

Reviewing Pike County’s recent experience and outlook, Sullivan noted that the nations’ economic recession in 2007 was not felt locally until September 2008. Unemployment reached 10.6%.

Pike EDA has been at work to cut that down. “Trend is our friend,” Sullivan said, and the trend has been good. The jobless rate in July was down to 6.3%. Considering 325 jobs that newly relocated or expanded firms are expecting, that would bring the unemployment figure down further, to 5.05%.

These jobs, however, are being held up by government regulations, he said.

••• Manufacturing better

While they value every job, including leisure and hospitality, Sullivan noted that EDA is focusing on bringing more manufacturing positions, which yield higher wages and are full-time.

The average retail job in Pike County provides $17.51/hour, and 31.5 hours a week. The average Leisure and hospitality job brings in $14.40/hour and only 26..2 hours a week. Manufacturing, however, brings an average of $25.33 /hour and 40.7 hours a week.

Pike County’s job base consists of 14.1% retail, similar to the national rate; 12.8% leisure and hospitality (above the national) and only 1.9% manufacturing (below the national median).

Pike County had a total of 888 businesses; Orange County has 6.5 times as many people and 11 times as many businesses.

Those 888 businesses employ 7,756 people. On top of that are the 3,700 sole proprietorships in Pike. Over half of Pike County’s residents who are employed, commute outside Pike County for their work.

Reviewing the tax advantages for business in Pike County, Sullivan noted that they are limited to attracting LLC companies and subchapter S companies.

Land that has pre-approvals is very important in attracting new business. This means acreage which has already been screened by the township and has its local and state permits. The sluggishness of obtaining state permits is a serious problem; Pike EDA has been pushing PennDOT and PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for a speedier process.

EDA is also reaching to local planning boards on the needs for economic development. Sullivan said he and EDA Chairman Matthew Osterberg recently attended one that was best described as “depressing.”

What they wish to stress to local governments is that for every dollar paid by a residential taxpayer, the municipality will pay $1.19 in services. For every dollar paid by industry and commercial interests, the municipal expense is only 32 cents to provide services.

••• Schools, arts important

“Cherish our school districts,” Sullivan added; we have good ones, and the quality of schools is one thing a developer asks about before deciding to relocate here. Another aspect important is arts and culture. This will make a difference in a firm coming or not, he said. One prospect asked, “but what do you do around here?”

Market the area in a way that both residents and business can prosper. Pike EDA seeks companies that would be a good fit environmentally.

More information on doing business in Pike County, PA and about the Pike EDA is available at www.edapikepa.org or by calling 570-296-7332. Their office is at 209 E. Harford St., Milford, which shares space with the Pike County Chamber of Commerce.