What does the future of economic development look like in the region after Great Stream Commons? | Business
With the answer to the two-decade-old question of what’s happening at Great Stream Commons, county leaders, developers and real estate agents are looking to what future economic development will look like in Union County and across The valley.
At the 500-acre Great Stream Commons, all but 48 acres are accounted for. Structures are going up through some spots and plans are in the works after recent purchases.
The focus is now on developing existing locations in the county and region, including the soon-to-be-vacant Country Cupboard restaurant and store, which many developers had been looking for all along. Focus Central Pennsylvania, an economic development organization spanning seven regional counties, showcases 42 commercial properties available, a mix of land for development and existing structures ready for reoccupancy.
Shawn McLaughlin, Union County’s director of planning and economic development, said about 70% of economic development applications in the area are from businesses looking for existing space without the burden of development. That means places like Country Cupboard and the old Weis Market location just down the road on Route 15 should be desirable.
The properties already have utilities, freeway access and plenty of parking. All they lack is a developer.
“If we had an existing building at Great Stream Commons, selling it would have been a snap,” McLaughlin said. “Most of these businesses and corporations that contact us, or if we get a lead from the governor’s office, want a building already built. They don’t want to buy raw land and have the risk and the delays of going through permits, construction and all that hassle. They want to move into a new, modern building from day one and we don’t have that in this area.
Focus Central Pennsylvania’s current offerings feature a mix of developed — the former Walmart location along Route 15 in Lewisburg — and pending development, including 10 acres east of Route 15 in New Columbia.
Elected officials and regional development officials said there was still interest in land and buildings.
“Most of these businesses and corporations that contact us, or if we get a lead from the governor’s office, want a building already built,” McLaughlin said. “They don’t want to buy raw land and run the risk and the delay of going through permits, construction and all that hassle. They want to move into a new, modern building from day one and we don’t have that in this area.
McLaughlin said existing building inventory in the area was low for industrial manufacturing and commercial real estate and said developers should build here on a speculative basis.
“There are still a lot of local and regional developers who think there’s still too much risk for that in this market,” McLaughlin said. “There are buildings being built, but we just don’t have that here.
“If you think back twenty years ago, if we had given them the land, we would have had taxable properties. But it’s a tough sell to the taxpayers who foot the bill. You’re still competing with communities across the country and the world donating land,” McLaughlin said. “That’s how they attract investment to their state and their communities.”
Lauren Bryson, executive director of Focus Central Pennsylvania, worked with Union County to sell the Great Stream Commons property. She said the future of development in the region is “a very big question”, noting how adaptability and flexibility will be key as current business owners will drive development.
“The majority of economic growth will come from existing businesses,” Bryson said. “It’s really about creating an environment in which existing businesses can thrive.”
On its website, Focus Central Pennsylvania notes some of its recent sales, including the sale of a 380,000 square foot, 34 acre manufacturing facility for $12.5 million in 2016, the sale of 8.1 million a 260,000 square foot building on 52 acres in 2018 – both in Union County – and a 120,000 square foot building in Northumberland County that sold for $1.5 million end of 2020.
Ultimately, Bryson said she believes there are opportunities to create more local investment and growth.
“Growth is definitely going to continue,” Bryson said, noting that Pennsylvania overall is seeing “moderate and steady growth,” and said the exponential growth in technology is something to watch. I don’t see growth slowing down in the next ten years, especially with infrastructure projects,” she said.
Infrastructure investment by municipal or county governments is critical, said Art Bowen, who has spent nearly 50 years in local real estate. These improvements could help spur economic development in the area, as well as the timing of necessary regulatory approvals from local and state authorities.
“Extend sewer and water and gas lines in areas that could accommodate this type of development. Another factor is the time it takes to get county, municipal and PennDot approvals for approvals and permits,” Bowen said, adding that processes can take a year or more before real estate can be sold. or developed. “There should be a way to streamline processing and approval times.”
Bowen seemed optimistic that new economic investments might be forthcoming. He said recent real estate transactions over the past three years in the surrounding five county area “suggest that we are on the cusp of increased activity and interest. Due to the bypass, there has been a increased interest and sales anticipating the completion of this bypass.New motels were built, land purchased for new businesses.
“Chambers (of commerce) and local developers are optimistic about the future, as am I,” Bowen said.