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What does economic development look like in the Mercersburg area?

By Chris Ardinger, Executive Director of the Tuscarora Area Chamber of Commerce & President of the Tuscarora Area Development Association

Economic development means different things to different people; even in Franklin County, each community has different thoughts on what economic development looks like. In the Tuscarora region, local leaders come and go and municipalities evolve and change priorities over time; economic development is not just a simple black and white process or idea. Recently, I began to ponder this thought even more as I read local commentary on social media regarding two new projects within our region.

Mercersburg is a special place, with historical significance and a beautiful landscape that we all enjoy and want to preserve. Being a rural community, many of our municipalities are seeing a declining population and a shrinking tax base. One of the biggest gripes that I hear from residents and potential businesses alike is the fact that we have high property taxes. This is the reason that our approach to economic development has been investing in growing our local economy and enhancing the prosperity and quality of life for all residents. We want smart, responsible economic development projects that can help grow our tax base and enhance the quality of life. Not only do new businesses bring jobs and additional opportunities, but they help decrease the tax burden on residents, farms and current businesses. One of the prime examples of this fact is Whitetail Resort; they pay approximately $400,000 annually in property taxes, making them the highest taxpayer in the Tuscarora School District (not the top prize that most people want to earn). Point being, it is naïve to think that our local and state taxes are ever going to decrease, so the best point of attack is to grow the local tax base to offset.

An example of a strong economic development project is the Herbruck’s Poultry Ranch farm in Montgomery Township. In the very near future, the Herbruck family will begin construction of their barns and support functions. This family-run business has been a leading egg producer since 1958. Upon final completion, the project is expected to bring approximately 190 jobs and represent a $100 million investment. Based on my knowledge of the project design, I have no doubt that they will become one of TSD’s highest taxpayers, if not the highest. It is worth noting that from day one of interacting with the family and their team, they have not once asked for any sort of tax break for their farm. They have been extremely transparent, involved community leaders, elected officials and residents in the process, which is something that they did not have to do and is rare to see. After owning property here for several years, they have already supported the community in multiple ways and continue to give back. It is difficult to find a significant agricultural project such as this, and for one to happen in an already strong agricultural community is a win win and helps to diversify our industrial base.

The second project that I have seen discussed is the potential construction of a Tractor Supply and new Dollar General in Peters Township. Some local leaders were made aware of this early on, others were not. The real estate developer that works with Tractor Supply looked at the area and identified a few potential properties and finally honed in on one. This particular project has many pros and cons; it adds to the tax base and brings an added convenience to our community, but with added convenience comes an increased potential of hurting smaller, locally-owned businesses. Many times, real estate developers or larger companies will pick a particular location without involving community stakeholders; I am not saying that is good or bad, just the reality that many times an assumption is made that community leaders actively pursue certain projects, when that is not always the case.

In terms of economic development, here are two items to ponder: zoning and infrastructure. Most of us living in rural communities enjoy the fact that zoning does not exist (unless you are in the Borough of Mercersburg); no one likes being told what to do with their own property. However, most of us would get pretty upset if we found out that our neighbor is going to start a junkyard, or even more of a recent debate, a solar field. Infrastructure is also a major part of growth and preservation; without access to water, sewer, electric, natural gas, etc., growth is difficult and almost impossible.

We are blessed to have community-minded local officials and municipal leaders, people like Mike Ross and his team at FCADC, financial lenders and local entrepreneurs that want to bring great ideas to light. To end, I challenge the community, if you have thought about starting up a local diner or a bakery, or have thought about franchise opportunities, or have a great new idea for the Mercersburg community, come talk to us. We love to see new ideas thrive! Most importantly, shop local! Our small businesses need community support more than ever.

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