Article featured on LancasterOnline.
For the last 18 months or so, Economic Development Co. of Lancaster County has been focusing less on trying to get businesses to move here, and more on helping businesses that are already here grow.
“This is a significant shift, not just for EDC but really across economic development nationally, based on the recognition that the most significant amount of job growth and investment comes from your existing business base,” said Lisa Riggs, president of the nonprofit.
Speaking after EDC’s Nov. 15 annual meeting, she said the rule of thumb is that up to 90 percent of new jobs now come from existing employers, followed by 5 to 10 percent from startups and new locations of existing regional companies, and then the remaining 5 percent or less from companies wholly new to the area.
“We do not have good data to see if that holds, but intuitively it does,” she said, noting that research suggests job portability has lessened over the past several decades.
In practice, she said, EDC is having a lot of conversations, trying to figure out where and how it can be helpful.
One example is its boroughs initiative, which started with regional meetings in May 2016.
“People would assume that borough managers talk to each other regularly; the reality is they’re all so busy focusing on their own boroughs, that often doesn’t happen,” she said.
By bringing them together, Riggs said, EDC hopes to see if there are common problems it can help solve and make them aware of resources like a local expert who could advise them on “the bane of their existence,” the parking problem.
EDC is also working with the Lancaster County Planning Commission on a study of the Rt. 283 and Rt. 230 corridor through Elizabethtown and Mount Joy, with preliminary results expected to be released publicly in the next month or so.
“This will provide us with some conversation points for sure, perhaps some strategies we’ll discuss with stakeholders along the corridor,” she said, describing the study as “looking at it regionally and trying to understand the pressures of land use and broadly of infrastructure, primarily transportation but also water and sewer capacity.”
There’s strong interest in the corridor from local businesses that would like to expand there, according to Riggs.
And Michael Mitchell, executive director of Elizabethtown College’s The High Center, confirmed after the meeting that there’s a lot of interest in growth among the roughly 110 family-owned businesses in the area that it works with.
The center’s members are from all kinds of different industries, he said, and “all of them tend to be doing very well right now.”
Mitchell cited research showing that family businesses outperform public companies, which he said makes sense because they don’t have to worry as much about quarterly reports, and so are free to take a longer-term approach.
He said the center complements the work of EDC and its sister organization, EDC Finance Corp., which help companies with things like finding locations and obtaining needed funding for expansions.
Meanwhile, he said, “We’re trying to get and develop the human capital so they don’t just build the new warehouse, but have the leadership teams to support it.”
Tom Baldrige, president and CEO of the Lancaster Chamber, also reached for comment after the meeting, said EDC’s shift is a good thing.
“It doesn’t mean that you close your doors to any new company,” he said, “but with the limited resources that we have, we prioritize growing local businesses as opposed to running after the shiniest new object that’s out there.”
And, he said, “There’s a lot of opportunity to provide attention to our local businesses, workforce, infrastructure and zoning that are essential if we’re going to grow those that are already here.”
A year ago, EDC announced that it would be launching a Center for Regional Analysis thanks to the BB&T Economic Growth Fund and The Steinman Foundation each committing $1 million to the project.
The Steinman Foundation is a local, independent family foundation funded by the companies that comprise Steinman Communications; those companies include LNP Media Group.
James Warner gave an update on that project at the Nov. 15 meeting. The departing EDC board chairman, he’s also CEO of Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority.
He said the board has been working since last spring to secure a senior-level economist for the center, and that although they had hoped to have one hired by now, they are making progress and have “several interviews scheduled over the next few weeks.”