SPRING TOWNSHIP — The massive Titan Energy Park has taken a giant step toward realizing its hopes of returning to its former manufacturing glory.
The state Department of Community and Economic Development on Friday approved a Keystone Opportunity Expansion Zone designation for the park, said Joe Leahey, partner and secretary of Navitus, the company that owns the more than half-million-square-foot industrial site off Axemann Road.
That status, which was approved by local taxing entities that include Spring Township, Bellefonte Area School District and Centre County, locks in the property at a tax rate of 110 percent of the 2012 tax assessment over 10 years, meaning the owners are exempt from future tax increases over that period. It also provides state and local community-building assistance to companies looking to locate in the zone.
“The KOEZ designation will greatly reinforce Titan Energy Park’s role as a leading business development site established to attract and support innovation, manufacturing and growth in the Bellefonte area, with the ultimate hope of bringing additional job opportunities to Centre County,” said Leahey, vice president of G.M. McCrossin and one of the park’s developers.
The 173-acre industrial park, once the former home of Bolton, Cerro and Titan metals companies, has six small tenants — the largest is 40,000 square feet. In 1997, Cerro Copper and Brass Co. employed about 700 people. Cerro sold to Bolton, and in 2008, closed its operations, eliminating more than 280 jobs. During World War II, it produced 20 percent of all the brass rods and forgings manufactured in the U.S.
The plant’s humble beginnings were as the Belle Fonte Forge, which opened in 1797. Its founder, John Dunlop, died in 1814, and the property has since changed hands numerous times.
Under the terms of the KOEZ, Leahey said the park must create at least 50 new jobs within five years or risk losing the tax exemption.
The KOEZ status has been in the making for some time. In 2012, Navitus invited members of Gov. Tom Corbett’s Action Team, which included Department of Community and Economic Development Secretary C. Alan Walker, to tour the facility. That got the ball rolling on the tax exemption.
“Gov. Corbett continues a commitment to work with local partners to bring new jobs and investment to Pennsylvania’s communities,” Walker said in a news release. “The KOEZ program embodies that partnership and has spurred the creation of nearly 40,000 jobs since program inception and as zones expire, new tax revenues are generated for the state and local governments. Today we take another positive step forward to attract new growth and good-paying jobs to the Titan Energy Park.”
Leahey said the plan for the park is to attract new businesses, “... from international brewing companies and natural gas-related manufacturing to nanotechnologies, 3-D printing manufacturing and specialty metals.”
He said several companies have shown interest in the property, but they opted for other markets. However, Leahey said a new marketing effort is underway, and the state is helping spread the word.
Startup companies looking for close proximity to Penn State are prime targets.
“We’re looking at mostly manufacturing and advanced manufacturing,” he said. “There are a lot of companies going through incubators, and they are looking to locate near Penn State. With Penn State being local, and all its enterprise, it’s attractive.”
Leahey said that besides Spring Township, the school district, the county commissioners and Corbett’s team, several others had a hand in bringing the property to KOEZ fruition. They include: state Sen. Jake Corman, R-Benner Township; state Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte; Chamber of Business & Industry of Centre County President and CEO Vern Squier; and U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Howard Township.
“We look forward to continuing to revive this historic manufacturing facility into a modern industrial complex that is generating new economic opportunities for Centre County,” Leahey said. “The added benefit of being a Keystone Opportunity Zone is a key part of this ongoing effort, which will start to reverse the loss of jobs and attract opportunities back to the area.”
In the past 10 years, Centre County has lost more than 50 percent of its manufacturing jobs. Leahey said that private industry accounted for 28 percent in 1998, and only 7 percent in 2012.
But that doesn’t mean the region no longer has a strong workforce; Leahey said the surrounding counties comprise much of that.
“The labor force isn’t just out of State College,” he said. “It’s out in the surrounding counties as well. People with good hands for manufacturing are here. Plus there is a beacon, and Penn State acts as an attraction for people back to the area. People who have looked from the outside, a lot of them are attracted because of the entrepreneurial programs at Penn State.”
He also added that with the interstate 99 and 80 corridors and nearby rail, there are additional benefits.
Squier said in August when the county approved the special tax zone that it was a big step in bringing manufacturing jobs back to the county.
“I think you’re going to start seeing a little bit of a waterfall effect,” he said, adding that the chamber would aggressively pursue manufacturing jobs through outreach.
Titan Energy Park will build to suit, but Leahey said the owners would consider selling parcels as well.
“The ownership would consider anything in terms of sales,” he said. “We’ve been reaching out to more larger real estate companies in the industrial markets, and the state’s been sending me leads and writing proposals for us.”
The property, which abuts Logan Branch of Spring Creek, has had a spotty environmental past. Logan runs into Spring Creek, a tributary that along with Logan has suffered at least nine toxic chemical spills in the 1960s and ’70s that greatly degraded the steams. In 1956, sodium cyanide was dumped into Spring Creek, and killed all aquatic life from Bellefonte to Milesburg.
Since then, numerous and intensive cleanups have largely restored the water quality, with the state Department of Environmental Protection leading the charge.
Leahey said all DEP-mandated site remediation work is complete and being monitored.
There are three Keystone Opportunity Zones in Centre County: Two are at Benner Commerce Park, and the other is in Moshannon Valley Regional Business Park in Philipsburg. Titan Energy Park also shares a portion of a Keystone Innovation Zone in the Interstate 99 corridor in Blair and Bedford counties.
Follow Christopher Passante on Twitter @ChrisPassanteCDT.