by Howard J. Grossman, AICP
There is much economic competition going after the big one.
Amazon is the most recent example of this, but it is not the only sampling that has existed in the Pocono-Northeast. It, however, can serve as a model for thinking big and large in this region and perhaps will be followed by other large scale projects.
In the 1980s, the region competed for the then-new Saturn plan, and after preparing a plan by the Economic Development Council of Northeastern Pennsylvania (now called NEPA Alliance), a group from the region flew to Detroit to make a presentation. While the results were not acceptable, the move put the region in the spotlight.
Years before, there was another effort to secure an auto plant of significance and that also failed. And while the efforts for Wall Street West following the 9/11 tragedy never led to any positive results, despite a grant of $15 million coming to the region from the federal government, there was much clamor and excitement about what this could mean to region economics and jobs.
The Amazon approach was a 99-page document by Penns Northeast, a regional marketing entity that highlighted many advantages such as location, education, labor force, logistics, operating costs, incentives, cost of living, quality of life, testimonials, letters of support, real estate options and live, work and play in PA. The document pointed out the region fueling the Industrial Revolution, and now asking Amazon to fuel out technological evolution. Pointed out were 19 different educational institutions with more than 40,000 undergraduate and graduate college students, ample opportunities for creative partnerships, a labor force renowned for its productivity, suburb proximity to New York City, New England and other major markets, a location adjoining the world’s second-largest natural gas resource, and a low cost of doing business, combined with a marvelous quality of life built around immediate access to the great outdoors. The document pointed out the regional network of nine incubators, start up companies creating new jobs with one anchor becoming a large-scale office employer of more than 120 workers, entrepreneurship institutes for high school and college students, multiple direct internships, innovation grants to many colleges, a regional intellectual Asset Inventory Database, the newly minted SHINE program as an after school opportunity, serving pre-school through eighth grade from 10 school districts in several counties, regional bioscience initiative for the region and more.
Pointing out that this region has a population of 1,028, 925 with a metropolitan area making up the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton Area, the region has become increasingly diverse to almost 15% today compared to 5.9% in the year 2000. Other data shown includes affordability in housing, access to many market sheds, a highway network of significance, economic output of more than 23 million dollars, the region being a resilient and sustainable geography, and a highly diverse quality of life with an abundance of lakes, rivers, forests, golf courses, state and federal parks and spectator ports such a NASCAR racing at the Pocono International Raceway, the triple A affiliate of the New York Yankees, the AHL affiliate of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and many examples of Main Street program communities such as Jim Thorpe, Stroudsburg and others.
The document challenges Amazon to seize the opportunity and become part of the team reinventing this region. Actually, the same approach can be utilized to demonstrate how other large-scale firms can view how they can become partners with Penns Northeast and other regional development agencies. Each of the elements mentioned previously are detailed in the proposal.
The proposal outlined the leveraging of energy as an advantage to this selection of the region. The opportunity exists to structure a public-private consortium to generate savings, cash flows and economic benefits for Amazon. Incentives mentioned in the document include the Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance program ( LERTA ) and the Workforce and Economic Development Network of Pennsylvania. In addition, the proposal suggests that “your dollar goes much further in Northeastern Pennsylvania.” And housing and other factors are delineated. Beyond these elements, the quality of life health systems in the region are outlined and these include eight examples. Twenty-four testimonials and several letters of support are provided.
Here are two examples of testimonials:
“Everything in Northeast PA is just right. It’s the Goldilocks theory of doing business.”
That is from Scott Meuser, chairman and CEO of Pride Mobility Products Corporation.
The second is, “that’s what you get when you run a business here in Northeastern Pennsylvania – loyalty, commitment and a great work ethic.”
And that is from Rich Calagero, vice president of Metlife Information Technology Services.
These and the other quotes all reference advantages of doing business inside this region. Letters of support came from many federal and state legislators as well as some community and county leaders.
Thirty-three real estate options are part of the proposal and come from local development organizations. These include information about available land areas as well as photographs or data about the option. There is a section of the proposal which talks about the powerhouse of Pennsylvania and the “work smart and live happy” atmosphere that prevails. Other information deals with the producing of leaders, investing in students, inspiring innovation, technology driving the economy, diversity being a strength, business being welcome, a “we are right where you want to be” mentality, moving at the speed of business, employees living happy, pursue your happiness here and Pennsylvania being and doing it first and being the “ideological compass for American values of freedom, innovation and tolerance.”
There is also a listing of 21 Fortune 500 companies found in the Commonwealth.
Penns Northeast deserves much credit for spending the time to prepare a proposal for Amazon. The organization serves five counties including Lackawanna, Luzerne, Monroe, Schuylkill and Wayne. Its role is clear and that is to attract new economic businesses to the region and maximize the means to utilize the many assets which this region offers.
The Amazon example hopefully can be replicated in other situations in coming years, under the leadership of Penns Northeast and the local development agencies serving this region.