CLEARFIELD – Clearly Ahead Development, Clearfield County’s economic development organization, held its annual luncheon Thursday at the Knights of Columbus in Clearfield.
The year-in-review presentation was given by Paul McCloskey, vice president of energy and business development, in place of Chief Executive Officer Rob Swales.
He said when the year began Clearly Ahead formed a strategic planning committee with the purpose of critically assessing the organization’s mission.
Its mission is to proudly serve the community by creating growth and opportunities in Clearfield County.
According to McCloskey, economic development is not only attracting new businesses and creating new jobs, but also helping existing businesses to expand and cleaning up former industrial sites.
“We’re trying to create a holistic way to create better [opportunities] for Clearfield County as a whole,” he said.
“… It’s about creating an environment where existing businesses can thrive but where we can also become a destination for new businesses.”
McCloskey said he’s fortunate to work with an organization that wants to create job opportunities for the youth who are graduating from local high schools now.
He said many from his graduating class have moved away. He said for some, it’s a desire to explore new things, but for others it’s the lack of opportunities here.
He said they’ve developed a strategic plan with the mindset of changing that environment. He said their first priority became understanding “what makes the local business community tick” and how it can be improved upon.
Soon after that, McCloskey said the No. 1 priority became the development of a local business outreach program. He said the staff went out, met with local businesses and heard “the good, the bad and the ugly” and tried to find ways to help.
McCloskey invited any local business owners who were in attendance to reach out to Clearly Ahead’s staff and to schedule a site visit with them.
He said the staff would also send out a mass e-mail at the beginning of the upcoming-year to its members to solicit site visits.
“I can come learn about your business and the position it’s in. No one knows it better than you,” he said. “We want to be able to have a communication back and forth, and hopefully, we can help to implement some meaningful changes.”
McCloskey said Clearly Ahead’s staff would take consideration of how taxes, regulations, permits, etc. are affecting the business and the resulting challenges. He said Clearly Ahead will be able to relate them to its partners, some of whom are elected officials.
On the other hand, he said their staff can help directly with infrastructure development, workforce development and training, small business financing, marketing, etc. If Clearly Ahead can’t help, he said they will find another organization that can.
Next, McCloskey said information is being sought from local businesses about what’s advantageous about the area. He said this helps Clearly Ahead achieve its second outreach effort, which focuses outside of the area.
He said Clearfield County has a tremendous opportunity with its natural gas resources. While it’s challenging being in a rural area, that alone sets the county apart from other places, and he said the staff is trying to find other things that set the county apart.
According to him, out of the area outreach requires more time and effort. He said Clearly Ahead increased its marketing budget significantly in the past 12 months to narrow its focus on specific industries to reach out to.
Based on the county’s profile, there are 2,154 employers, 11 more than last year. McCloskey pointed out that approximately 7,500 residents commute into the county; however, over 8,800 commute out for work.
Through speaking with site selectors, he said most businesses are looking at work commutes of 45 minutes. While the county has a labor force around 35,000, he said it’s important to think regionally and consider the people available in Elk, Jefferson and Centre counties.
McCloskey went on to say that Clearfield County needs to stop the out-migration of its labor force by creating employment here. He noted the top occupations were healthcare, logistics and distribution, administrative and professional, etc.
He said many partners, such as the county’s Career & Technology Center and Lock Haven University’s Clearfield Campus strive to meet needs as related to workforce development.
For 2017, McCloskey said Clearly Ahead had six projects that combined for a total cost of just over $3 million. The projects created 110 new jobs and retained 394 current jobs.
He said neither the Tafco expansion nor the construction of Continental Carbonic Products Inc. was included in Clearly Ahead’s project figures. He did say these types of projects are needed to keep youth in the local area.
McCloskey said the best thing about the Continental Carbonic project was that the county leveraged what it already had – Pennsylvania Grain Processing – to attract new business. He said he would like to see additional projects spin-off from existing businesses in the future.
He touted the county’s central location to many cities on the East Coast and its interstate access. He said Clearly Ahead needed to target businesses that would find this advantageous.
“Business outreach is going to continue to be a major priority for the upcoming-year,” McCloskey said, “… We look forward to continuing to grow in 2018.”
Clearly Ahead Development also plans to make the county’s available real estate more visible to targeted business markets, increase its presence in local media and to grow its membership partners.