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Fitting all the pieces into the economic puzzle

By Mary Kuna

This was published in the June Cumberland Valley Business Journal and on Cumberlink.com.

All the signs are there: increased traffic, sold signs, new school buildings, omnipresent roadwork and the beginning of building frames in vacant lots. It must be “development”. If there is a word that seems to lead to considerable tension within communities and amongst neighbors, it is “development”. To some, it appears as if development is occurring for no rhyme or reason. On the contrary, it is not as haphazard as some believe.

The why and where of development are based on an assessment of needs. This goes for all industries and for the average homebuyer. Each industry, each individual makes a choice on where to locate for specific reasons. In economic development, each industry uses a specific set of criteria when evaluating a site to determine if the location is appropriate. Even homebuyers and renters have specific sets of criteria that they provide to their realtor when looking for a place to call home.

Cumberland County is growing in both population and businesses. The Census Bureau estimated the population of Cumberland County to be 241,427 in 2015. Penn State Data Center predicts that the population of Cumberland County will increase to 258,880 by 2020. These individuals are moving to the County for the same reason current residents remain. They enjoy the proximity to major cities, the host of recreational assets, the number of retailers, and numerous educational institutions.

The residential housing market in Cumberland County is one of the strongest in the region. According to the Greater Harrisburg Association of Realtors May 2017 Monthly Statistics, houses spent an average 57 days on market with an average price of $222,601. As the population continues to increase, a new inventory of homes are needed to keep up with demand. While this increase in residents may be alarming to advocates for open space, residential development has followed a pattern.

The Cumberland County Planning Departments building permit records indicate the majority of residential development is occurring in eight municipalities: East Pennsboro Township, Hampden Township, Silver Spring Township, Lower Allen Township, Upper Allen Township, Middlesex Township, South Middleton Township and Southampton Township. The western portion of Cumberland County that has been an agricultural hub since the County’s inception remains idyllic with protected farmlands and extensive open space.

Commercial development follows residential development. Retailers, in particular, have specific requirements for deciding where to locate. They base their site selection on the number of households, the ages within the households, income levels and spending patterns. For retailers, population density is key. In parts of Cumberland County with considerable residential growth, retailers are following. While the rise of online sales has affected the sales of brick and mortar retailers, restaurants and small boutique retailers are finding the growth in residential development ideal.

Sometimes the most controversial development, industrial development in Cumberland County is continuing. This type of development; however, is targeted in its approach to finding the perfect site.

Industrial development does not seek out any available piece of open ground. The choice to locate is a calculation based on the individual industry’s needs. The warehouse and distribution industry prizes proximity to major interstates. For distribution, distance has a monetary value. Properties located far from major interstates are not attractive to the warehouse industry. Warehouse development in Cumberland County has begun to move towards the western portion of the County, but it remains located near I-81.

Manufacturers have similar needs as those in the distribution industry and consider proximity to a major interstate advantageous, but it is not their most important consideration. Manufacturers vary, but almost all manufacturers seek sites with ample water, sewer, electric and natural gas capacity. Sites with proper industrial zoning and all utilities are ideal for manufacturers. In parts of the County with limited utility access, attracting large-scale manufacturing is extraordinarily difficult. Smaller manufacturers have found their niche in older industrial facilities in the Mechanicsburg and Carlisle areas that offer affordable space with access to utility infrastructure.

Commercial, industrial and residential development in Cumberland County are experiencing positive increases. Once we begin to understand the decision process for these various forms of development, we are able to approach development with less tension and more inclusion. There is room within the puzzle of Cumberland County for all the development pieces. We just need to understand where they ideally fit.

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