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CVBJ: Development in practice

This article was written for the October Cumberland Valley Business Journal.

Originally, this article was going to be a state of the county and economic development in Cumberland County. Although the topic may be interesting to some and outright boring to others, it seemed a little peculiar to discuss the status of such things related to economic development when it is most likely that readers may not be able to quite pinpoint what exactly “economic development” is. We use the words so often, but hesitate when asked to explain it.

The technical definition of “economic development” by the International Economic Development Council is a “program, group of policies, or activity that seeks to improve the economic well-being and quality of life for a community, by creating and/or retaining jobs that facilitate growth and provide a stable tax base.”

A more direct and applicable definition would be the method and means of bringing business to an area, keeping business in an area and helping business grow in an area. This is what Cumberland Area Economic Development Corporation (CAEDC) strives to do each day. Activities and programming to move economic development forward are categorized into two areas: business attraction and business retention & expansion.

Business attraction refers to the ability to bring new businesses to the county. CAEDC’s approach to business attraction has focused on marketing, site selection support, research & data collection and real estate redevelopment. In their strategic plan, CAEDC named agribusiness and food processing as the target of business attraction efforts. A strong marketing campaign coupled with a growing toolbox of resources for agriculture and manufacturing businesses have brought a number of businesses to search within the Cumberland Valley for their next facility. Of 16 prospects looking in the county, 7 were manufacturing related with some relationship to the food industry. Through the use of the Cumberland County site selection tool, www.cumberlandcountysites.com, and the newly formed Real Estate Collaborative, LLC, business attraction for Cumberland County shows very little signs of slowing.

It is not only CAEDC’s efforts that support business attraction throughout the county. A number of downtown organizations and community groups have begun revitalization efforts seeking to bring new businesses to core downtowns.

The driving force behind these movements have been citizens, public officials and local organizations with additional support coming from the local chambers of commerce, the Cumberland County Housing and Redevelopment Authorities and the Cumberland County Planning Department. Over the past year, communities like Mount Holly Springs, Newville, Shippensburg and New Cumberland have begun evaluating their opportunities for the future. As these and other communities continue their efforts for local economic development, the larger business attraction landscape in Cumberland County is only strengthened.

Attracting businesses; however, is not the most impactful area of economic development for any community. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, small firms accounted for 64 percent of the net new jobs created between 1993-2011. Small firms are the target of traditional business retention & expansion efforts.

Business retention & expansion refers to programs and policies that directly assist existing businesses within the community to maintain their operations and potentially grow those operations. Often the programs for business retention & expansion receive little fanfare. They are activities that focus on gathering data from businesses and learning about their day to day operations.

While this does not bring the notoriety that business attraction does, it provides the existing business base with assurance that their community has a vested interest in their activities. CAEDC has worked to address the needs of existing businesses throughout the county by providing financing assistance, technical expertise and programming to address workforce development needs. Through a series of local, state and federal gap financing solutions, businesses can expand their operations and services. With over $11,000,000 in financing provided this year to businesses throughout Cumberland County, business expansion does not seem to be slowing.

The increased business activity in the county has also increased the need for a talented labor supply. Larger economic and industry trends are impacting local economies. As technologies change, greater need for a skilled workforce is becoming absolutely critical.

Working with local businesses to understand their workforce challenges and address those concerns has been a high priority for CAEDC. Through connections with local educational institutions, workforce organizations and transit partnerships, CAEDC continues to build programs and activities valuable to the business community.

All of these activities are only a snapshot of what comprises the field of economic development. As needs change, activities and programs evolve. Focus will sometimes shift in economic development, the definition remains the same. Bring business, keep business and grow business may be a simple way of describing it, but the implications have a more valuable effect that surpasses simplicity.

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