CBICC: Countywide foundational issues serve as bridge between rural and urban growth

Vern Squire
Vern Squire

Many who live and work in Centre County tend to see the county as two distinct regions — the population center that is the Centre Region and the rural, outlying communities with less population density. If you agree to view the county in this way, there are economic opportunities unique to both.

With the county’s proud agricultural heritage — and the desire to preserve it — greater attention is being placed on agritourism as a means to also bolster economic and tourism growth.

Family farms looking for new sources of revenue to sustain operations have led to the growing agritourism trend. The commonwealth has seen tremendous growth in farms with agritourism income — 64 of 67 counties as of 2012, according to data from the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences. In Centre County, 16 or more farms reported agritourism income.

Additionally, community-supported agriculture and the concept of food hubs are gaining traction as more and more people want to know where their food comes and how it is raised/grown.

Agritourism holds promise for Centre County. That’s why the Chamber of Business & Industry of Centre County and the Central Pennsylvania Convention & Visitors Bureau are working together to enhance existing offerings while exploring new opportunities.

Outside of the agricultural sector, heightened business expansion activity is leading to new development as companies look for space to accommodate growth. While occurring in areas throughout the county, some companies have made a specific commitment to being in the population center — downtown State College in particular — so that employees have the ability to bike or walk to work, or be closer to a variety of entertainment options.

The bridges between rural and urban growth are the foundational issues that matter to business regardless of industry sector, size or location. Issues such as workforce, transportation linkages and municipal cooperation are of benefit to all, and are neither distinctly urban nor rural thought. They are of countywide importance.

Our employers need a properly skilled workforce. The CBICC and its educational and community partners responded by developing a local response — CentreReady. The participation of all five of Centre County’s public school districts and two career/technical training institutions means that all county students, regardless of where they reside, will have the same opportunity to receive the CentreReady designation. Employers will have a collective pool of potential employees with the core skills they deem most desirable.

Moving people and product conveniently, efficiently and safely is an essential business operating requirement. It impacts education and tourism as well. Continued focus will be placed on improving transportation linkages — our air service and highway corridors among them.

Municipal cooperation is also aiding business growth. The CBICC and its municipal Centre County Economic Development Partnership stakeholders are advancing the message that positive economic growth in one part of the county is ultimately beneficial to the county has a whole. The partnership is living out this approach to strengthening and balancing the local economy by collaboratively assisting business retention/expansion efforts throughout the county.

As focus is placed on building a strong foundation for all Centre County business, it is important to note that the perception of Centre County from the outside does not make clear distinctions between urban and rural. The county and our surrounding neighbors are considered rural Pennsylvania. This is yet another reason why addressing foundational concerns from a countywide perspective is not only important in helping existing business flourish, but in attracting new business investment and job creation into the county.

Centre County’s businesses and municipalities — “urban” or “rural” — will always have their own unique needs that must be addressed. However, if we want to capitalize on economic opportunities that will propel us forward as a county, we have to also think beyond perceived geographical boundaries and municipal borders.

Vern Squier is president and CEO of the Chamber of Business & Industry of Centre County and the Centre County Industrial Development Corporation.