john-biemiller-2John Biemiller is the Executive Vice President/COO of EDC.

At the Economic Development Company of Lancaster County staff meetings, we often start with a round of “Borough Trivia.”

Questions include:

• How many boroughs are there in Lancaster County? (Answer: 18.)
• Which have the largest and smallest populations? (Largest is Ephrata, population 13,542. Smallest is a toss-up between Terre Hill, 1,295, and Christiana, 1,300.)

• After Millersville and Elizabethtown, which borough has the highest percentage of residents with a bachelor’s degree or higher? (Adamstown, 30.8 percent.)

Moving to a larger perspective on the importance of the county’s boroughs, here are a few more compelling facts:

• Boroughs represent 3 percent of the land in Lancaster County, yet are home to more than 18 percent of its population. After Lancaster city, they are the most densely populated areas in the county.

• Twenty-two percent of employees in the county work in a borough; 27 percent of county businesses are located in the boroughs; and 20 percent of establishments with 100 or more employees are located in the boroughs. (Source: Nielsen Claritas, 2016.)

Across the county, the need for and benefit of a focused effort targeted toward revitalizing boroughs is becoming clearer in light of the challenges of anticipated population growth, maintaining quality of life and preserving land resources.

“Based on the input that we have heard from thousands of residents so far, it is evident that our urban places, including Lancaster city and our boroughs, should play a central role in creating the kind of Lancaster County all of us want to see in the future,” says Scott W. Standish, director for countywide planning who is leading the Places2040 Comprehensive Plan.

These compact areas face challenges unique to their structure and history that impact their ability to achieve economic development goals.

They are almost fully developed from a real estate perspective and have little ability to increase tax revenues through growth in their assessment base.

They also have limited public parking and are burdened with legacy infrastructure such as stormwater and sewer systems and streets and sidewalks, which need to be maintained and updated.

And, a major challenge of redeveloping older properties into new uses is that the costs to renovate are typically not offset by rental income, whether it is for a housing or a commercial use.

These are the types of challenges that highly qualified economic development and real estate development professionals have a hard time solving, let alone smaller communities with constrained budgets and many other priorities.

Despite these challenges, our boroughs offer walkability, historic architecture and local merchants, all of which are community attributes that a range of demographics — including millennials, seniors, empty nesters — want today.

Redevelopment and reinvestment in our boroughs represent an important opportunity to reuse and improve what already exists versus starting from scratch in an open field.

Last fall, EDC began reaching out to key leaders in boroughs across the county.

Given strong interest in advancing shared economic development goals, an initiative now called the Lancaster County Boroughs Collaborative was launched. The initiative includes borough representatives plus leaders from the Lancaster County Planning Commission and the Lancaster County Housing and Redevelopment Authorities.

The collaborative held three regional meetings in May that attracted more than 60 borough leaders to provide input on the challenges and opportunities facing boroughs and to discuss ideas for working together to strengthen economic success.

This work complements recent efforts by the housing and redevelopment authority in Marietta and, on a larger scale, its establishment of the Lancaster County Land Bank, which will provide municipalities with an important tool to help manage the outcomes of distressed properties.

Each Lancaster County borough has its own identity, history, assets and challenges, yet already common ground is being found through enhanced communication and coordination.

Focusing reinvestment in Lancaster’s boroughs is a pursuit that will achieve long-term, countywide economic success, enhancing these vibrant urban hubs of community life that county residents enjoy.

See the full article on LancasterOnline.