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Strategic plan outlines growth in Cumberland County

It has been roughly a decade since the Cumberland Area Economic Development Corporation was created by the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners.

In that time the United States entered and exited recession, industry has shifted in Cumberland County and the county’s landscape has physically changed.

So now was the perfect time for CAEDC to update and solidify its views for economic development in the county.

“It’s been a long time,” CAEDC COO Shireen Farr said of the organization’s new strategic economic development plan. “It’s been about an 18-month process. We were nearing our 10-year anniversary mark of being an organization in this market and we thought it was time to update and refresh our work plan.”

Farr said CAEDC, the county-created nonprofit, worked with Cumberland County officials to align the strategic plan with the economic development portion of the county’s comprehensive plan, which was due for an update.

“We got together and said, ‘if you’re updating your comp plan and we’re updating our strategic plan, wouldn’t it be nice to do it in tandem jointly together and have our economic development be the county’s economic development focus?’” Farr said.

Approval

The strategic plan was approved by CAEDC’s board in September and integrated into the county’s comprehensive plan in December.

“It’s an acknowledgement by the county government that economic growth has a role here,” said Commissioner Gary Eichelberger, who was on the board when CAEDC was formed. “We know we need growth, but we want it to be quality growth and an organization like CAEDC can help us channel those energies in positive directions.”

The plan lays out in relatively concrete terms the breadth and scope of CAEDC by defining its goals, guiding principles and strategic plan for economic growth in Cumberland County.

“Before it was just if it made sense we just kind of did it,” Bowser said. “Now, if we are presented with an opportunity, our first question is … ‘where does this fall into our overall plan and scope of work?’”

The fundamental goals of economic development laid out in the strategic plan are to increase the commercial and industrial tax base, increase the median household income and job opportunities and maintain a diverse industry base.

CAEDC’s, and now the county’s, plan has six industry cluster of focus — tourism, agribusiness, transportation and warehousing, health care and social assistance, manufacturing and professional services — with a larger focus on acquisition in agribusiness.

Much of the data used in developing the plan came from Penn State University.

“Through this process we had a lot of input from, not only the county commissioners but the committee we put together to look and the data points, and we took all that and put together our industry targets,” said Mary Kuna, manager of business attraction at CAEDC. “We went after agribusiness, which is a little bit more than just the farm aspect of it. It includes a lot more of the production and manufacturing.”

Targets

Kuna said CAEDC’s research indicated that agribusiness was an area that the organization could have an impact on in business acquisition.

“We decided that would be an area that we could be competitive because what we’ve seen in manufacturing, and in particularly food manufacturing, you want to be close to your market,” she said. “What makes us great for distribution and warehousing also makes us great for food manufacturing.”

Agribusiness in Cumberland County grew by 23 percent between 2002 and 2012, according to data provided by CAEDC.

However, the average farm in the county is only 10 acres, according to Farr.

CAEDC does not intend to increase the number of farms, but rather leverage the existing resources in Cumberland County as well as throughout the mid-state region.

“Our efforts aren’t to grow farms or put farms on our site selection tool,” CAEDC CEO Jonathan Bowser said. “I think we want to use our current farming community as an asset to hopefully attract more on the processing and manufacturing side of it.

“As we are saying agribusiness, our tunneled focus is the processing side of it, but to have a strong effort there you do need the farms and you do need the distribution end of it,” he added. “We want to be connected in those areas, but we are not necessarily out to attract that farm or make sure that the farm changes hand and goes to another. I think that community can continue to self-monitor themselves and do what they’re doing.”

With a focus on food processing and manufacturing, crops will come from a mix of inside and outside the county, according to Farr.

Areas of growth

While new business acquisition will focus on agribusiness, that does not mean CAEDC will turn down or avoid other areas of economic development and growth.

For example, Bowser explained that warehousing and distribution likely will remain a large part of local economy but will likely continue to grow without the investment by CAEDC thanks to Cumberland County’s location to major roadways and cities.

“We just went through this long iterative process to come up with what we ended up with,” Farr said, noting that Cumberland County is rapidly growing while maintaining high levels of quality of life indicators. “How do we keep all of this in balance and how do we, as a small organization, move the things we think we need to move to keep us relevant into the coming years?

“We identified one key industry segment — food manufacturing, food processing — as being the one thing we are going to focus on from an attraction perspective,” she added. “The reality is although there are other business sectors (and) industries that have promise, we can’t be everything to everybody. From a business retention and expansion perspective, we looked at location quotients and all the other factors to identify where we could support in retaining what we have and expanding.”

Read this article on Cumberlink.com here or more like it in the new Cumberland Valley Business Journal.

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