Editor’s note: This story is part of the CDT’s Business Matters special section.
Municipal leaders in the Penns Valley Region are looking for ways to bolster the economy.
To accomplish that, Linda Marshall, from the Centre County Planning and Community Development Office, said a comprehensive plan is being developed that takes a look into the future of the region in 10 years.
She said the plan is in its infancy stages, but includes making internet more easily accessible to residents, fostering business and agriculture development, repurposing old buildings for economic use, enhancing community parks and marketing the region as a local destination.
With plans from SEDA-Council of Government’s Natural Gas Cooperative, there is even a proposal to bring a natural gas pipeline to Centre Hall and Potter Township.
Centre County Commissioner Mark Higgins is also working to establish business incubators, including one proposed to help support agriculture-based business. The Penns Valley Agriculture and Sustainability Incubator plans to launch in 2018, according to a report from the county, but a location hasn’t been established.
But perhaps the largest growth is taking place in one of the valley’s smallest communities — Rebersburg.
It’s home to less than 500 people, according to the latest census data, and can be found on state Route 192 in Miles Township.
“There are two main city centers in Penns Valley — Centre Hall and Millheim,” Marshall said. “But up and coming places are like Spring Mills and Rebersburg, which could be the next Millheim.”
Recently, the Old Gregg School in Spring Mills was repurposed as a community and recreation center. Last year, the YMCA of Centre County expanded to Spring Mills, as well.
About 11 miles away, a sale is pending for a vacant gas station in Rebersburg on West Main Street at the Broad Street intersection.
Harvey Zerbe, of Superior Plus Energy Services, oversees the station and said the sale should be finalized by spring.
He confirmed in January that the person who made the offer plans to turn it back into a usable gas station.
And some local business owners think that’s just the thing needed to put Rebersburg on the map.
“They have a lot of work to do within the next five years, but people like the Bierly family (are) really making Rebersburg more of a destination, similar to Millheim,” Marshall said.
Millheim, home to less than 1,000 people, saw a boom in local tourism after the opening of restaurants, art galleries, a dance hall that supports community events and more — all while maintaining the small-town atmosphere.
Keith Bierly is a lifelong Rebersburg resident and owner of Forefathers Book Shop, 121 E. Main St.
He said in order to help make Rebersburg a more attractive local destination, local businesses owners should work together to help make that happen.
“I think we need to be in this together, and work with places like Penn’s Cave and (Elk Creek) Dry Goods and some of the Amish,” Bierly said. “We’re in a nice location between places like Centre Hall and Raymond B. Winter State Park, but we don’t always have the kind of economy and traffic to support us.”
He has an idea to create a nonprofit with other businesses on or near Route 192, but hasn’t established anything yet.
“It’s been a challenge,” Bierly said. “We lost the bank, and don’t have a lot of other businesses because we’re not like State College in the heart of activity. The goal would be to change that.”
He said having a gas station in the community is a good foundation.
The nearest gas station on Route 192 is more than 22 miles away in West Buffalo Township, Union County.
Other than that, Bierly said people avoid part of Route 192 and head to nearby state Route 45 where there are gas stations, such as the Sunoco in Penn Township and Sheetz in Potter Township. That, he said, helps lead people to places like Millheim.
“What we also need is some sort of restaurant — a diner or hoagie shop or pizza place, so when people come here they also have a reason to stay,” Bierly said.
The community, he said, offers opportunity to grow as long as the business community is invested.
“I think the key for us is to rally to promote the valley,” Bierly said. “A lot of people have a dream (and) would love a life where they’re their own boss and set their own hours. Rebersburg gives you that. We did that, and in Rebersburg you don’t have the overhead you have in larger communities. That’s what makes places like Rebersburg or Millheim prosper.”
Bierly opened his book store nearly four years ago with his wife, Kim Bierly, who runs Main Street Yarn, and created a yarn and knitting club that attracts people from Bellefonte and State College.
“So we’re not just serving people in Rebersburg or the valley,” Bierly said. “We’re branching out to other parts of the county, out of the county, and with the power of the internet, can attract people internationally. We’ve been growing and really happy the way it’s been going.”