Green Chair Interview: Mike Sullivan from the Pike County Economic Development Authority

Michael Sullivan from the Pike County Economic Development Authority takes a seat in the Green Chair and talks about sewers, bureaucracies and better jobs in Pike County.

(This is the first interview of our new series Interviews from the Green Chair. MilfordNow! will be interviewing notable and interesting people from our area, in the Conservatory at the Hotel Fauchere. On deck for the next interview: Pike County Commissioner Matt Osterberg. Stay tuned.)

MilfordNow! Michael, why don’t you start by telling me what your job title is and what you do now.

Michael Sullivan My official job title is Executive Director of the Pike County Economic Development Authority (EDA). I serve at the pleasure of the Board of Directors of the EDA. And I work pretty closely with the Pike County Commissioners also.

MN! You had left about a year ago.

Sullivan That’s correct.

MN! Where did you go?

Sullivan I worked for about six months at the Orange County Partnership. It’s a similar organization, only in Orange County, New York. And what I did over there was I worked on very large projects. It was interesting because Orange County has picked up a lot of big projects. In the short time I was there I worked on United Natural Foods, Inc., that was 500,000 square feet. I worked on Amy’s Kitchen which was 525,000 square feet and maybe 900 employees.

Interesting enough, with both of those projects as good examples, one of the things they required was treatment of a fluid. They’re going to use a lot of water. They’re going to be cleaning vegetables. They are going to be putting out a lot of water. And you need a sewer system. And therein is the first point is that I would say is important for us to discuss. What are the liabilities and what are the attributes of Pike County? And one of the liabilities is lack of sewer and water.

MN! So you left and came back.

Sullivan I did.

MN! When you left, we talked and you seemed frustrated with Milford and perhaps Pike County. What was the frustration based upon?

Sullivan I wouldn’t characterize it as frustration. It was a situation where, I am somewhat used to getting a lot of projects. And I really love the work I do. I honest and truly love the work I do. One of the things that’s tough about Pike County is that at the time I was spending all my time going to municipalities trying to talk them into things like The Pike County Tax Abatement Program. I was spending a lot of time doing that and I wasn’t getting to the work that I wanted.

Now we did have some notable successes. Including the selling of the Pike County Industrial Park. The idea of the Karhr Arms. Econopac. The LP Cylinder expansion. And Middletown Community Health Services was in process when I left. We had some notable progress. Still quiet compared to other locations.

MN! Why do you think it’s hard to do business here in Milford?

Sullivan I don’t think anybody knows about our attributes. And to let people know, to make noise in the marketplace, you have to do some advertising and marketing.

One of the other things that makes it difficult here–and I’m not down on Pike, I’m upbeat on Pike–is, it’s important that people to realize, we do have liabilities. 1/3 of Pike County is totally parkland, or federal land or game land or whatever it may be. I’m not a proponent of that. Int the sense that 1/3 of all the property that has been set aside are some highly developable sites.

It’s very difficult to find a site [for a business]. Also in Pennsylvania, there you have a situation where you have the requirement that you put a 150’ environmental area on each side of a stream. If you own an acre of land and have a stream coming down the middle of it, you cannot use that land, because a 150’ set back will take up about an acre and a half.

MN! Tell me about how we can innovate here and how the EDA is innovating here?

Sullivan The LERTA program. A tax abatement program. If you were going to Orange County, you could take advantage of a 15 year tax abatement. Pennsylvania started that, and it’s called Keystone Zones. Like New York, we need to be able to say [to business owners], come over to Pike County and you will get this, this, this and this.

MN! In addition to the lack of a sewer system in Milford, what are our other liabilities? And who ultimately is responsible for getting things going so there is more business in Milford?

Sullivan One side is the bureaucracy that focuses on the Department of Transportation and Department of Environmental Protection. Both, in my opinion, are rogue type environments that can’t be controlled by anybody.

The DEP will guarantee your business an answer in 107 business days, or 6 months–and the clock only starts after you submit a flawless application. And virtually nobody does that.

And this bureaucracy feels no pressure from anyone.

MN! So what do you love about Pike County?

Sullivan Everything. I really do. People are the loveliest people that you could ever imagine. I think the local governments are very, very cooperative. Extremely so. Accessible, cooperative. I’m a sucker for a slow, high, pitch. Meaning that, I’d like to really do something. I’m no longer looking for resume items on my resume. I’m going to be 68 years old this year. My thing is, I just want to do something noteworthy in Pike County. I like it and the people are very, very good. And I’d like to take advantage of the state taxation rate in comparison with New York and New Jersey.

MN! Where do you see Milford in the next 5 to 10 years? Do think it will look the same or be dramatically different, with more businesses here and more people are out in the evenings enjoying the town. Or will it be the same thing?

Sullivan No. Out of about 1,400 types of manufacturers, we’ve identified 60 that we can accommodate here. And can accommodate with some advantage. They are companies that don’t produce smoke. They are machine tools, they are fabricated metals and manufacturers of instruments. And what does that mean to Milford? It means that if we can get another 1,000 jobs, that will have more effect on the well-being of Milford than we can possibly do.

In this last great-recession we were hit in the most difficult position we could be in. All disposable, discretionary income vanished. And we were dependent on disposable, discretionary income. The idea is that we have generate our own disposable income, higher wages and more jobs. And develop an in-county clientele.

MN! Do you think there will be a sewer system here in Milford?

Sullivan I know Matt Osterberg is working on that right now. We would love to take the sewer system from Westfall and extend it all the way down to the borough.

MN! If that happened. What type of business expansion would we see?

Sullivan Milford is a sweet lovely place that people gravitate to. My wife and I come over from Orange County to eat at the Waterwheel. If you look at the Friends of the Library, look at how many people come from outside the county. They bring their commerce and their purchasing with them.

Many stores in Milford, went through the toughest time in the last four years. Many did not survive. But if we could generate our own buying capacity inside the county, where people have their own disposable income and they’re not making *$359 per week, they’re making $1,034, as I showed you, that’s what we’re hoping for. And the idea of the water and sewer would be very important.

MN! Thank you Michael. It’s sincerely appreciated.

Sullivan My pleasure, my pleasure.

Editors’ Note: Sullivan presented a report produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics that illustrated the “Average hourly and weekly earning of all employees on private nonfarm payrolls by industry sector, seasonally adjusted.”

*Sullivan highlighted how Pike County’s primary private sector employment sector is Leisure and Hospitality, where for May 2014, average weekly earnings were $359.66. According to Sullivan, the EDA’s goal is to bring “Goods-producing” employment sector jobs to Pike County, as their May 2014 average weekly earning were $1,039.77.