Lancaster County business leaders are launching a research center to study the local economy and offer executives key data as they weigh opportunities to expand or relocate.

The move, announced Wednesday, is designed to boost the county’s competitiveness in the global marketplace and is being funded by two major grants totaling $2 million over five years.

The Center for Regional Analysis will operate under the Economic Development Company of Lancaster County. The nonprofit’s president, Lisa Riggs called the initiative a game-changer in guiding the growth of the county’s $26-billion economy.

“It’s not enough anymore to say we’re a great place to do business,” Riggs said in an interview. Companies are “looking for cost analysis, workforce analysis and us having a depth of knowledge in their industry.”

The center, the first of its kind in southcentral Pennsylvania, will employ three or four researchers and begin operations by mid-2017, Riggs said.

The center will analyze government-generated data and do original research, Riggs said. Companies will also be able to pay for customized research, helping the center become self-supporting.

“Enlightened decisions”

“For too long our collective decision making has often been based on anecdotes, emotion and how things have always been done,” said Robert Krasne, CEO of Steinman Communications, at Wednesday’s announcement. “To ensure that Lancaster County continues to grow, flourish and thrive far into the future, we need to make enlightened decisions.”

The Steinman Foundation and the BB&T Economic Growth Fund are each committing $1 million to the new center.

To extend its reach, EDC’s Center for Regional Analysis plans to collaborate with the economic and business departments at Elizabethtown College, Franklin & Marshall College and Millersville University, Riggs said.

Carl Strikwerda, Elizabethtown College president, said that Lancaster County needs to keep up with major metropolitan areas that have already invested in economic research to attract or retain employers. He said big companies exploring new sites expect localities to have facts in hand.

“It’s an arms race,” Strikwerda said. “Data is the thing that keeps you in the game.”

Data matters

Mark Fitzgerald, president and chief operating officer of High Real Estate Group and High Associates, said it’s powerful in negotiations to deal with “facts as opposed to assumptions.”

“People are making significant investments in these relocations, and they want data to support their decision,” said Fitzgerald, an executive committee member of the Economic Development Company. “I think this is a trend that’s here to stay.”

Riggs said the nonprofit is often asked about the economic impact of places like Clipper Magazine Stadium and Spooky Nook Sports.

“My current answer is we really don’t know,” Riggs said. “It’s an example of the gap we have in the marketplace. It would be helpful to understand how they are changing and supporting our economy.”

Founded in 1960, EDC is a private, not-for-profit organization focused on promoting business development and expansion in Lancaster County.

Read the full article on LancasterOnline.