By Beth Brelje, Pocono Record Writer, Monday, May 26, 2014
With 363,260 total acres of land in Pike County, one third, 118,738 acres, cannot be touched for job-producing business development.
Permanently preserved state forests, state parks, state game lands and National Park Service land take up 33 percent of the county’s real estate, said Mike Sullivan, executive director of the Pike County Economic Development Authority.
“That number grows as Pike County gets more land,” Sullivan said.
Since 2008, through the Pike County Scenic Rural Character Preservation Program, the county has spent some $5.9 million of county and state money to preserve more than 3,500 acres of land.
“At the EDA, we like green,” Sullivan said.
After all, one of Pike County’s largest employing industries is leisure and hospitality.
The pay stinks
The average hourly rate of pay in the United States for leisure and hospitality workers was $13.78 in April, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average weekly income was $361, indicating hospitality workers are not getting 40 hours of work.
“Pike is heavily married to the leisure and hospitality,” Sullivan said. “It is our task to increase the wages and diversify employment opportunities in Pike County.”
The EDA has identified more than 2,000 manufacturing businesses that don’t require significant sewer and water, have little environmental impact and can be sited on relatively small parcels of land around the county.
Manufacturing jobs offer better pay. In April, wages at manufacturing jobs averaged $24.72 per hour, and $1,006 a week.
“That is the reason we are looking at manufacturing,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan has been in talks recently with a New York business that wants to build a 35,000-square-foot building. It would bring 20 high-paying jobs to Pike, ranging between $40,000 and $80,000.
Slim pickings for buildable land
“I have less of a problem identifying these companies than I do finding suitable sites for them,” Sullivan said.
In addition to a large percentage of preserved state and federal land, which is somewhat unique to Pike County, there are the usual challenges of municipal zoning. All townships have areas zoned for residential, retail and a variety of other things.
Plus, there are hundreds of acres in Pike County that are preserved through the Clean and Green plan. In exchange for a promise not to develop the land, owners get a significant tax break. A buyer who would develop on Clean and Green land would have to pay the back taxes that the former owner avoided.
Of the parcels left in the proper zones for manufacturing, many are unusable because of rocky topography. Or the land may have a stream or wetland requiring that any building be setback so far that it won’t fit on the property.
“There are some, but very few sites, for commercial development, and that is an issue we are wrestling with; identifying and securing sites for the types of businesses we are recruiting,” Sullivan said.
A few solutions
Sullivan is asking for anyone with more than two acres of commercial land to contact him at the Pike County Economic Development Authority.
Also, the EDA is looking for investors to invest in industrial parks. The county is not spending any public money on land acquisition for industrial purposes, Sullivan said.
The 44 acres owned by Delaware Valley School District on Route 6/209 is now for sale.
“It might be interesting for an investor to buy and create six preapproved industrial and commercial building sites. They could get a nice return on those acres,” Sullivan said. “If we had six sites preapproved, we would use it as the center for our marketing program. I would focus on those sites.
“This is the big challenge we are faced with. It has always been the challenge of doing thoughtful economic development in Pike County.”