Editor’s note: This story is part of the CDT’s Business Matters special section.
The economic health of the Centre Region has been strengthening over the past three years, and according to Vern Squier, president and CEO of the Chamber of Business and Industry Centre County, the area could experience stronger economic development by 2020.
The Centre Region is made up of State College borough and the surrounding townships of College, Ferguson, Patton, Harris and Halfmoon. The region is the economic epicenter of Centre County, which is the second fastest growing county in the state behind Cumberland, according to census data collected in 2015.
Squier said the CBICC supports the economic vitality of the region by focusing on helping existing companies to thrive, fostering startups and recruiting businesses to the region. Together, the three focus areas have generated growth and momentum, but there is an opportunity to seed the healthy business landscape, which can solidify the future economy, according to Squier.
“It’s a positive evolution,” Squier said. “But we’re at a pivotal time because the last three years have been investments to make the next three happen.”
In May 2015, Penn State offered a helping hand to CBICC efforts. University President Eric Barron signed a memorandum of agreement saying Penn State committed to “building a nurturing and collaborative environment saying professionals, entrepreneurs and businesses of all sizes can thrive.”
Squier said the memorandum was the first of its kind in the county and helped to strengthen and unify the economic mission of the region.
“Since then, the municipal entities all have come in tighter to figure out how to work together,” Squier said.
You can see the dynamism driving down College Avenue. There are three skyscrapers under construction simultaneously and there are many other smaller construction projects scattered throughout the region.
Mark Higgins, Centre County commissioner
Aiding in the solidarity is the Centre County government. Centre County Commissioner Mark Higgins said the board of commissioners is committed to helping continue the growth, which can easily be seen in the area.
“You can see the dynamism driving down College Avenue,” Higgins said. “There are three skyscrapers under construction simultaneously and there are many other smaller construction projects scattered throughout the region.”
The region’s growth and economic prosperity have received national attention within the past year. Entrepreneur Magazine rated State College the 10th best place to start a business out of more than 2,400 cities and towns. FiveThirty Eight, a polling website that focuses on economics, politics and sports, ranked State College as the 19th fastest growing entrepreneurial metro area in the United States.
The national recognition, along with the support of the university and the local government, makes the region attractive to businesses considering relocating to the area, according to Squier.
“I think anytime an outside company looking in can see some degree of acceleration in the economy, aside from what they may contribute, they are often intrigued or attracted to that,” Squier said. “With that said, one of the pinnacles of what we have to offer in terms of recruiting new businesses to move to the area is the university. The reputation, the intellectual property of the university stands out.”
Not all momentum is generated by Penn State. Several successful businesses have no direct connection to the university, but the university offers a teaching dynamic that can further the education and skill set of workers. The synergy is attractive to companies considering investment in the area and is an important dynamic in maintaining the Centre Region’s economic success, according to Squier.
“The next three-year cycle will be a maturing of partnerships and teams,” Squier said. “I think we are going to see continued infills in the spectrum of economic development and I think we’re also going to see additional external factor, which helps on the recruitment side and to retain and grow the businesses we have.”