CLEARFIELD – The Clearfield County Economic Development Corp. (CCEDC) held its annual luncheon Thursday at the Florian Banquet Center in Clearfield. C. Alan Walker, the secretary for the state’s Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED), and Dave Spigelmyer, chairman of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, were guest speakers at the event.
Director Rob Swales briefly outlined the CCEDC’s achievements for 2012. He said that the CCEDC facilitates an operation that isn’t typical of the private sector. In addition to promoting Clearfield County, the CCEDC conducts outreach to facilitate businesses located here by helping them retain and expand their operations in the area. At the same time, Swales said the CCEDC recruits new businesses and operations from outside the area.
In the past year, Swales said the CCEDC opened its energy, multi-tenant building. He said the CCEDC was “proactive and stepped forward” almost two years ago to get the project rolling. He said the demand was greater than the supply at that time, and during the construction, the CCEDC was approached three, different times by oil and gas companies that wanted the building yesterday. He said many visited the site and looked at the construction, but it “went dead” around the time of the ribbon-cutting.
“It was really a thing of timing,” he said of the energy building that remains empty. Swales said while the bad side is that it’s sitting empty, the good side is that it’s there and move-in ready for support services related to the oil and gas industry. He said it gives the county a tremendous amount of leverage within the region from an economic development standpoint.
In 2012, Swales said the CCEDC secured the developer’s agreement with Clearfield Borough for the administration and development of the Riverfront Development Project. He said the CCEDC has plans of revitalizing the riverfront in downtown Clearfield between the Market and Nichols Street Bridges. A few years ago, he said the CCEDC acquired the former Uni-Mart site along Market Street, and its redevelopment efforts are evident there on a smaller scale.
So far as the Uni-Mart project, he said there have been environmental risks involved. He said the CCEDC has been working with the DCED regarding the Brownfield remediation and the Underground Storage Tank Fund for clean-up of the site.
Swales said the CCEDC was invited to the state’s Brownfield Conference last week as one of three finalists for its environmental clean-up project. The CCEDC submitted its Howe’s Leather project, which would remediate the Brownfield site into a 26.5-acre Industrial Park in Curwensville Borough, so that it’s suitable for further development. He said as a finalist, the CCEDC competed against other projects that originated from Pittsburgh and Williamsport. Of those, he said the CCEDC was chosen as the recipient of a $1 million grant for the Howe’s Leather redevelopment project.
So far as compressed natural gas fueling stations, Swales said the CCEDC has worked with a local start-up company, Alternative Fuel Solutions of Mahaffey, this past year. He said the Industrial Development Authority in partnership with the North Central Pennsylvania Regional Planning and Development Commission approved financing to help Alternative Fuel Solutions acquire their facility and to expand their operations.
Swales said the CCEDC plans to continue working with Alternative Fuel Solutions in the future. He said the Clearfield County Area Agency on Agency Inc. has converted their fleet of vehicles for the Meals on Wheels program. Swales said that was “one small step,” as he expects other agencies and municipalities to begin considering this direction. He said they look forward to working with Alternative Fuel Solutions to help them network and grow within the business in 2013.
Swales said that the CCEDC created the RigMonkeyApp.com Smart Phone Application. He said it was a huge accomplishment to be the first economic development corporation in the nation to do so. Swales said the CCEDC has submitted an update to the current app that is much stronger and faster. The app allows the outside community to upload landowner information for properties that are for sale or for lease. He said in turn, it’s promoted nationwide for site selection inquiries that are coming in from manufacturing, oil and gas operations, commercial retail and professional office representatives on behalf of clients.
During his presentation, Walker focused on Clearfield, “the area he knows best” and the area most in attendance “knows best, too.” He said Clearfield is an area that he “deeply loves,” and in Harrisburg he refers to the Clearfield people as the “dear hearts who live in my hometown.” Walker said he accepted his position with DCED, because he felt he could “do some good” for Clearfield County.
According to Walker, the Clearfield area is very special, as it’s been able to preserve American values. He said the county takes care of its young and elderly populations and the unfortunate among those populations. He said the county supports its local charities and donates blood at a rate much higher than the national average. He said the young people are proud to serve in the military, and talented students who leave the area become successful contributors in their new communities.
“The best media comment that I ever heard about the character of Clearfield was in an article written about Bill Dimeling . . . the article stated that ‘Bill Dimeling was proud he grew up in Clearfield. It’s one of those rare towns where the banker’s son and the garbage man’s son can be best friends,’” recalled Walker. “And, I think that’s true.”
He said Clearfield County has maintained its heritage while moving its local economy forward and taking advantage of the opportunities that lie ahead in the 21st century. He compared Clearfield’s story to his favorite children’s book, “The Little Engine that Could,” a story that illustrates the importance of perseverance and determination when faced with tough tasks.
“And, that’s Clearfield,” said Walker. “That’s our story from the time our economy began to collapse in the late 1960’s. The Clearfield County of the 19th and 20th century had been built around our natural resources – coal, clay and timber – and the manufacturing that goes along with those industries.”
According to him, the Clearfield people became reputable as a talented workforce with a strong work ethic. He mentioned several businesses that once employed thousands of people in the Clearfield and Curwensville areas. He said some of these companies included Harbison-Walker Refractories Co., Robinson Clay Products, McGregor and Kent’s Sportswear, DuPont Airplane Marine Products, Patterson Brick, Clearfield Cheese, Howe’s Leather, Berg Electronics, the Pennsylvania Railroad and others.
“One by one, they started to close down or relocate from the area,” he said. At its peak, he said Robinson Clay Products employed more than 400 people and was located at the present-day Clearfield Mall. He described Harbison-Walker as the “granddaddy of them all,” as it employed more than 2,500 people at its peak after World War II in Clearfield County. Walker said when the steel industry collapsed, the refractory brick industry collapsed, and Harbison-Walker closed one year shy of operating 100 years in Clearfield County.
In 2002, Walker said Berg Electronics closed, and it resulted in the layoffs of 647 workers. He said every plant closure has a similar story, and it was devastating to the region. He said, “This was Clearfield at its low point,” with the county’s unemployment rate at 25 percent.
Fifty years ago, he said he graduated from the Clearfield High School, and the school system had 5,500 students. Today, he said it has 2,300 students and is still contracting. Along with that, he said in 1995, Conrail announced if a buyer could not be found, the local rail system would be closed down and sold for scrap. He said this would have ended a 127-year rail history in Clearfield. He said the buyer – R.J. Corman – saw its value and purchased the rail system with the vision of keeping it intact.
“During one 10-year period, we only created one new job in the borough,” he said. “. . . Even with these little setbacks, the people never gave up on their community. When the leaders asked if the community would support a drive for industrial development, the response was ‘I think we can, I think we can,’ and we did.”
He said the community has been asked to support various projects, including those at the Lock Haven University – Clearfield campus, the Clearfield Hospital, the Joseph & Elizabeth Shaw Public Library, the Clearfield YMCA, the Soccer Complex, etc. He said the community’s response was always “I think we can, I think we can,” and we did.
Walker said after it was announced the Dimeling Hotel – the architectural gem of downtown Clearfield – would be demolished and replaced with a convenience store, community member Terry Malloy wanted no part of that. He said Malloy worked tirelessly to save the building, and he said, “I think I can, I think I can,” and he did.
In 1993, he said the Wal-Mart Distribution Center was built in Bradford Township, which created nearly 1,000 new jobs. He said the Harbison-Walker site was declared a Brownfield site, and the plant was torn down. Today, he said Clearfield has an ethanol plant, which employees 80 people.
Walker said the Clearfield County Commissioners decided to close the Multi-Service Center and relocate county jobs into the downtown. He said this helped revitalize older buildings within the downtown, as well as to support a number of other businesses.
Four years ago, he said Clearfield was named a Main Street community, and Kellie Truman-Swales was hired as the Main Street Manager. He said since then, the downtown has experienced “an incredible transformation.” He said Third Street has received new lights and sidewalks and 46 new lights have been purchased with state grant funding to revitalize Market and Second streets.
He said CNB Bank has also announced its expansion at its headquarters on South Second Street; the borough has received a $50,000 grant for trees, bike racks and other amenities for Market Street; and the CAST will be receiving grant funding for a new marquee.
“The people of this community understood its community pool was in a state of disrepair and in danger of falling in,” said Walker. “A community was asked to raise $500,000 to match a state grant. The response was, ‘I think we can, I think we can’ and now we’re only $40,000 short of our $500,000 goal. The state has already committed its $500,000.”
He said the state’s Department of Transportation is planning to construct a new headquarters for District 2 in the Clearfield Industrial Park.
“To all of you in this room, we have come a long way, and I thank you for your role in this,” he said. Walker said he’s been in his position for 24 months and visited 50 of the state’s 67 counties, and he’s aware of what does and doesn’t work so far as maintaining a strong community. “The communities that have strong local leadership are the ones doing the best.”
Walker said Clearfield will face “bumps” along its road, such as the closing of the Shawville Power Plant. However, he said it will have a “major opportunity” as the Shale gas deposits are developed in the region. He said the Marcellus Shale gas deposits will be significant for Clearfield.
According to one Penn State study, he said 80 percent of the county’s property is currently owned by private individuals with 20 percent being owned by the state. Over the next 30 years, he said there’s a potential royalty income to private property owners of between $12 and $15 billion in just Clearfield County. The current assessed value of all property in the county is $600 million. He said that means over the next 30 years, there’s potential to create new wealth that’s more than 20 times the assessed value of the county’s property in 2010.
To fully take advantage of this opportunity, Walker said Clearfield must:
- begin to think as a region and engage in superior strategic planning.
- speak positively about the region and its assets and resources.
- laugh about the characteristics that make Clearfield different from other areas of the state.
- remember that politics and economic development go hand-in-hand. He said the Clearfield region has never been better served in Harrisburg and should be heard at the state level.
- strive to make the school and healthcare systems the best that they can be. He said to be a competitive community, education and healthcare are vital.
- keep business districts the core of the community. He said while downtowns are no longer “shopping hubs,” they are used to judge the “vitality of the community” and must be maintained. He said Clearfield and DuBois are Main Street communities and have improved their downtowns and kept them attractive.
- move into the Elm Street Program to improve residential neighborhoods and housing.
- implement institutions to maintain the wealth as related to Marcellus Shale. He said Clearfield County has established a charitable foundation to be used as a vehicle to set up programs to benefit communities.
- focus on bringing assets on par with the rest of the state with one critical area being highway construction. He said both U.S. Route 219 and Corridor O, which connects Interstate 80 and I-99 with a four-lane highway, are still on the drawing boards. Should these projects move forward, he said I-80, U.S. Route 219, U.S. Route 322 and Corridor O would all come together in Clearfield County. He said, “Everyone understands that growth comes when two Interstates intersect. It’s major.” He said these projects cannot fall off the radar screen for Clearfield County.
- reach out to the Office of International Business Development. He said this office focusses on growing the state’s economy by tapping into international markets. He said Pennsylvania has the largest international network in the country with 27 contractors who cover 50 countries.
- have business and industrial parks “site ready.” He said that he’s a believer in “if you build it, they will come.”
- explore the possibilities of school districts and municipalities sharing and consolidating services. He said it’s the “best way” to keep taxes down and still provide needed services to communities and their people.
Walker said Pennsylvania is currently second only to Texas for people who are working in energy-related industries. And, he said if gas continues to develop by the early 2020’s, there will ultimately be more than 500,000 people working in the energy area in Pennsylvania, which represents 10 percent of the state’s workforce.
“I truly believe that Clearfield is headed in the right direction,” said Walker. “But we cannot sit back and expect our hard work of the past decade or the opportunity that we have with Shale gas to advance our economy forward for the next 10 or even 20 years. While there is a tremendous opportunity presented to us, the decision we make today will impact the future that lies ahead with every brick and mortar, every building revived, every shovel that breaks new development, every new chapter and every new employee given a chance to succeed.
“We can make a difference. This is what makes us all work harder to improve our communities. We need to look to the past and learn from it, but the present is now, and the present will not be here for long. Someone else will seize it if we do not. I want Clearfield to be known as the community that says ‘we think we can, we think we can’ and then we do.”
Earlier in the luncheon event, Spigelmyer updated the status of the state’s Marcellus Shale industry. He said shale gas produced 182 billion cubic feet in 2008, and today, it is producing roughly 1.3 trillion cubic feet.
According to a Penn State economic analysis, Spigelmyer said that in 2011, Marcellus Shale was projected to create 111,000 jobs. He said based upon Department of Labor statistics today, there are close to 240,000 shale-related jobs in Pennsylvania. In addition, he said said seven of 10 hires are Pennsylvania residents.
Spigelmyer said they are going to drop the number of wells drilled annually to about 1,500. He suspected they’ll continue to see “softening” in rig count and this is primarily being driven by commodity pricing. He noted that in 2012, it was the first year that natural gas generation output equaled the same as coal.
He said compressed natural gas vehicles are also coming quickly, as GM and Dodge Ram are currently off the line, and it appears Ford will be off the line in 2013. He said the refueling infrastructure is being established with locations near Brookville and Mill Hall. He said a number of companies are beginning to invest rather rapidly.
When asked after his presentation, Spigelmyer said Ohio posed as a significant competitor in the shale industry. But he said it’s not just Ohio, and the commonwealth needs to be continually sharpening its pencil. He said the capital coming into Appalachia isn’t from Appalachia but from the Gulf Coast states and even internationally. He said all the shale plays are competing for that capital.