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Building economic prosperity in Cumberland County

2015 was a fascinating year in Cumberland County, and we saw a lot of activity happening in our market.

From healthcare, retail, and bank closures, mergers and acquisitions, to the construction of larger distribution centers, to the redevelopment of vacant industrial sites, to the state budget impasse and the impacts it had on our communities and schools, to the looming idea of a future Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), and to the state of small businesses with rising healthcare costs, stagnant wage growth for employees, crippling infrastructure and marginal increases in revenue relative to increases in expenses—it has been an interesting 52 weeks.

For economic development in Cumberland County, this has been the reality of our local economy, which seems to accurately reflect that of our global economy. With all of these snowballing issues, the state of our workforce has continued to loom over us as well.

We all see a shift in the skill sets needed to perform high demand jobs, in which there does not seem to be a pool of candidates that have the education and/or skills to perform these jobs. We also see a greater need for public transportation in our communities, and educational institutions need to transition to better support the private sector’s need for an educated workforce to bridge this demand gap as retiring baby boomers leave the job market.

If I were to perform a SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) on our county, I am sure most, if not all of these challenges would fall under the “threats” column for us. However, despite these serious “threats” to our local and national economy, Cumberland County continues to remain resilient.

I have spent a lot of time asking myself why this seems to be. As I travel and speak with other economic development professionals throughout the state and country, it seems as though we all are fighting some variation of the same threats. But as I pause and think about why Cumberland County and the south-central region of PA continues to thrive, I come to the conclusion that it is our industry diversity and us as people.

 We have the same challenges, yet the people of this county care and support one another. Not to say this does not happen in other communities, but we seem to be different. We seem to be more vested in the future of our community for our children, neighbors, family and friends. Our commitment to our communities keeps our communities thriving. Our political, community and business leaders also care about our communities and give back through financial resources, but most importantly through time.

Despite the challenges and threats that our local economy faces, the Cumberland Area Economic Development Corporation (CAEDC) and its partners have begun to address several of them. We have been working with Capital Area Transit (CAT), and the public and private sector to look at comprehensive ways to address our public transportation deficiencies throughout the county.

Our first pilot route targets the Allen Road Industrial Corridor in Carlisle. With workforce development, we will be launching new strategies to address our workforce availability and skill sets (and education) required to perform the jobs of the 21st century. We have continually worked with our local, state and federal legislatures and elected officials to prioritize transportation projects to deal with our growing residential and business base here in the county that has placed pressure on our local governments and transportation network.

So as we enter the new year, we are excited to have another opportunity to work with you to enhance the economic prosperity of our community, as we address the economic challenges ahead of us together.

The creation of the Cumberland Valley Business Journal shows this dedication to keeping a pulse on our economy. It will provide an outlet to discuss business growth, successes, challenges and ways we can partner to continue to move our county forward.

-Jonathan Bowser, CEO of the Cumberland Area Economic Development Corporation.

This article was published in the Cumberland Valley Business Journal and can be found here.

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