6MR :: CCEDC
As part of the GantDaily.com semi-annual story series, Rob Swales, chief executive officer of the Clearfield County Economic Development Corp. (CCEDC) recently highlighted some of its greatest accomplishments and challenges of the past six months while also offering a glimpse at future projects.
In the last six months, the CCEDC’s greatest accomplishment has been securing contracts with Clearfield Borough for the riverfront development project.
“That’s huge,” said Swales. “It’s literally just taken place in the recent month. With that project, that’s a $10 million redevelopment that we’re going to be responsible for.”
He said it’s been a “sense of relief” with the project being in a “holding pattern” for the past few years with other outside entities. He said by securing the contracts, it will allow the CCEDC to develop a design plan and approach to redeveloping from bridge to bridge.
Ultimately, Swales said the CCEDC is looking at redeveloping multiple sites along the riverfront between the Market and Nichols Street bridges. He said these sites include the Novey, Tool Shed and Read and Rishel properties.
“It’s very early yet, too. We do not have contract agreements in hand so to speak for acquiring those properties,” he said. “But it would encompass the redevelopment of that site to a new structure. The Uni-Mart site is a redeveloping stretch of property there with a multi-story facility.”
Swales said the CCEDC intends to create a “festive atmosphere” along the riverfront. It wants redevelopment opportunities on the first floor, where there is a family atmosphere along the riverfront that’s conducive to some retail operations, commercial retail operations, restaurants, etc.
“We want to attract and draw people into downtown Clearfield and utilize the riverfront,” he said. “We want to maximize our use there and the exposure we have with the Susquehanna River.”
He said the redevelopment project will include a river walk that will loop approximately one-mile from bridge to bridge. He said they really want to open up the river for runners and walkers and canoers/kayakers and rafters to utilize the riverfront and also to access these buildings from both the river and the river walk.
Swales said this year will pose quite the challenge, as the CCEDC will be approaching existing landowners along the stretch in the coming months. In addition, he said it will be really fortifying a master site plan for the project with a multi-phase approach with the Market Square project, or Uni-Mart site; the Novey property and river walk; and the Read and Rishel sites.
“It will really be broken down into three, separate projects with overlapping timelines,” he said.
Another major accomplishment, according to Swales, was the CCEDC’s release of its Smart Phone application, rigmonekyapp.com. He said they’re already making efforts to switch the web site-based application over to a more conventional and traditional Smart Phone application. He said this would allow the application to function much faster and stronger.
Swales said the CCEDC was the first economic development entity nationally to introduce a Smart Phone application that’s catered to real estate and site selection. He said they’ve taken it a step further and made it a community-based Smart Phone application for purposes of outreach. It allows the outside community to upload landowner’s information for properties available for sale or lease.
“It’s not only for real estate professionals, as we’re also encouraging landowners to help us out,” he said. “It will in turn be promoted nationwide for site selection inquiries that we have coming in from manufacturing, oil and gas operations, commercial retail, professional office (representatives) on behalf of clients.”
Swales said the CCEDC has already noticed results with its Smart Phone application and its usage.
For Swales, the last accomplishment was the “resurrection” of the Clearfield ethanol plant. Pennsylvania Grain Processing LLC finalized its purchase of the ethanol plant in May. “It’ll be nice to have a 60-year-old family business resurrecting that facility from bankruptcy,” he said.
“That has been a challenge, too, in that the CCEDC had taken a financial hit as a result of the Bionol bankruptcy. We have been internally exposed to debt financing that was incurred by Bionol Clearfield LLC.”
Swales said PGP worked on improvements to the facility to maximize their product.
In the past six months, Swales said the CCEDC’s biggest challenges have been related to brownfield and environmental clean-up. He said they’ve been working with various federal and state departments in an effort to retain financing and clearances on various properties, as it relates to existing contamination and clean-up efforts throughout the area.
He said these efforts not only exist along the riverfront, but also in other areas, such as the Curwensville area. He said the CCEDC is currently in discussions with the trustees of Howe’s Leather as well as with the state’s Department of Environmental Protection to prioritize clean-up at the old tannery across from the Curwensville Area School District.
“That’s been an exciting project here as well,” said Swales. “It poses an all new set of challenges related to environmental clean-up and possible redevelopment at that site.”
According to him, another challenge has been the apparent slowdown with the oil and gas industry, which began around October 2011. However, he said it’s starting to pick up again in the region and will never go away with all the resources available here.
Swales said it’s a matter of the commodities, which are starting to change course and increase. He’s anticipating a direct correlation and an increase in the industry’s activities and inquiries for mobilizing and setting up a presence in this area.
“We’re starting to see that now, and it’s taking off again,” he said. “The inquiries are starting to come in.”
Swales said the CCEDC greatest achievement was securing the riverfront redevelopment project. On the other hand, he said it didn’t meet filling its energy, multi-tenant building. He said unfortunately, the CCEDC had the ribbon cutting in October 2011, and it remains empty.
“That’s a little bit of a challenge there, and it was a matter of timing. We had three, different companies that were very interested in that building and occupying the entire facility, while it was under construction. It simply wasn’t ready in time to meet their needs,” he said.
“After the construction, the inquiries drastically slowed down. Now, we’re waiting on the other side of that curve for the commodities to increase the inquiries to start coming back. But what helps is that there seems to be some speculation on the development in the Ohio region. But we’re anxious to get an anchor on that facility.”
Swales said the CCEDC hasn’t been faced with any major legislation or events to hinder or impact its operations. He said the CCEDC is a 501(C)6 non-profit organization, so it’s not a government entity, although it does have the opportunity to obtain state loan and grant packages for development projects and even for the private sector.
Naturally, he said budgets have been cut in the past year or so at the state level relating to various financing programs. However, he said it hasn’t impacted the CCEDC directly. In his opinion, it was a relief to see some fiscal responsibility within the commonwealth, as it reprioritized programs in all of its departments, especially within the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED).
“I respect them taking that stance and reprioritizing the way things are funded and what their internal strengths and weaknesses are,” said Swales. “Many economic development entities I know have not been real supportive of the legislative action with the budget decreases. I see it as a pro from a long-term perspective.”
When asked about the next six months, Swales said he was looking forward to seeing his aforementioned projects growing and developing their own characteristics. He said it’ll be nice seeing the “steam fire” again from the Clearfield ethanol plant and the subsequent production and opportunities to work with “spin-off” companies with it being fully-operational.
“That will pose a lot of activity here as well to see if we can recruit spin-off companies and things along that nature that could enhance the product being produced by Pennsylvania Grain,” he said. “We’re looking forward to the clean-up of the Howe Leather site, which encompasses almost 30 acres of property. And, with the riverfront, we’re anxious to speak with the landowners to solidify this project.”
In addition, Swales said he’s really looking forward to the second generation of the CCEDC’s Smart Phone application to even greater capabilities than what it already has. He said they want the application to have faster speeds and turnaround time and greater access for users and landowners.
“There’s going to be quite a change with the next generation. We’re quite proud that we stay ahead of the curve with technology and getting our information out there to the public and to site selectors and manufactures with the different tools we have available for them,” he said.
He said there isn’t anything that he’s not looking forward to in the upcoming six months. He said every day poses its own challenges, and they truly never know how their days will be prioritized at the CCEDC. He said it could change with a single phone call or over an announcement of an existing company downsizing or closing. At the same time, he said it could be the exact opposite with an inquiry from a company that’s really looking to come into the area.