Located in the heart of South Central Pennsylvania, Franklin County is fast becoming the place to start a new business or relocate an existing company. The historic county continues to remain true to its agricultural roots, as it welcomes companies of all sizes. Numerous well-known and respected companies such as multinational Proctor & Gamble, Volvo Construction Equipment, JLG Industries, Inc. and the Letterkenny Army Depot call the area home.
Leading the way in Franklin County is the Franklin County Area Development Corporation (www.fcadc.com), under the leadership of long-time President Mike Ross. He has headed the FCADC since the day it started, on March 3, 1986 and has seen many changes to Franklin Country over the decades.
Ross is a lifelong resident of Pennsylvania. He moved to Franklin County in 1986, and it soon became home. His children were raised in Franklin County, went away to college and came back to live. “In many ways, that is a validation of some of the things we’re trying to do from an economic development standpoint, such as create opportunities for young people to stay here if they choose, to locate here or to relocate here from other places.”
He has a diverse background in economic development and worked at what was the Pennsylvania Department of Commerce – today the PA Department of Community & Economic Development – soon after graduating college. Working closely within the department alongside others in charge of administering loan programs used in Pennsylvania for economic development, Ross fostered contacts and gained experience which helped prepare him for his future role as president of the FCADC.
Back in the mid-eighties, many areas were experiencing high unemployment, and Franklin County was dependent on the Letterkenny Army Depot and a handful of companies for employment. In 1985, following an initiative by the Greater Chambersburg Chamber of Commerce and a commissioned economic analysis of Franklin County, the conclusion was that Franklin County’s development activities should be centered in one office and performed on a county-wide basis.
The Franklin County Area Development Corporation was initially a paper corporation created in 1960 and used by the local chamber to apply for economic development funds available in the state of Pennsylvania. “That was the genesis of the corporation,” says Ross. “They had the framework of an organization on paper. There was a decision to staff it, and I became the staff at that point.” Today, the corporation has a staff of four.
The Franklin County Area Development Corporation actively promotes the area and its many strategic advantages. It has been reaching new and long-time businesses through a variety of means – including its highly informative website with data on demographics, incentives, site selection and a great deal more.
Franklin County presents a great deal to businesses wishing to locate, relocate or expand into the Mid-Atlantic Region: a prime location, solid talent pool, business infrastructure and unparalleled quality of life.
“We are fortunate to be in a location which is growing right now,” says Ross, explaining that there have been population shifts in south-central and southeastern Pennsylvania. “Our location is good, and we are part of a growing region in south-central Pennsylvania, but we are also very connected to Washington D.C., and this quad state region. We have a unique political geography here, where our tagline is, ‘we are four counties, four states, forty miles.’ So you have Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia all coming together right here on Interstate 81, and Interstate 81 has become the primary transportation corridor on the East Coast, only surpassed by I-95.”
“So, everyone who is moving goods and services on the East Coast is looking at this corridor. They are looking at opportunities to locate here, and we couple that with the fact that we are an hour and a half out of Washington DC, and that Beltway continues to expand northwest, and we’re all connected in that way.”
Many leading manufacturers and businesses of all sizes are proud to have a presence in Franklin County including Procter & Gamble Northeast Mixing Center, Sears Holdings (K-Mart Specialty Center), Volvo Construction Equipment and Johnson Controls/Frick Co. There are also top manufacturing employers and logistics, warehousing and distribution employers in the county. Many have hundreds of workers, while some, such as the Letterkenny Army Depot, Summit Health, and Manitowoc Crane Group/Grove Crane, are in the thousands.
Families are settling in the area for its quality of life, excellent educational institutions from pre-school to post-secondary, reasonable taxes, low crime rate, first-rate hospitals, stunning scenery and rich local history. Employers are coming to Franklin for its ideal location along Interstate 81 and a civilian labor force of 450,000 well-trained and reliable workers within just forty miles of the county.
Franklin County’s highly diversified economy is attractive to a range of sectors, and this has contributed greatly to the state’s economy. Significant economic drivers include retail, wholesale, hospitality, manufacturing, transportation and warehousing, education, healthcare, business and professional services, agribusiness, government administration and construction.
Additionally, Franklin County is home to industrial and business parks, encompassing over 1,500 acres of easily accessible, developable land near public utilities and transportation routes. Parts of the Cumberland Valley Business Park are designated as a Keystone Opportunity Zone giving abatement of some state taxes and all local real estate taxes. Other areas are designated as Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance (LERTA) zones in which businesses can receive local real estate tax benefits on capital improvements.
Since some areas of the county are within Foreign Trade Zone #147 – a regional economic development project encompassing Adams, Berks, Dauphin, Franklin, Lancaster, Lebanon, Perry and York counties – companies can benefit from numerous advantages as they expand into international markets. These benefits include distribution savings, lower inventory costs and deferred, reduced and/or eliminated U.S. Customs duties.
“We are the target area in the next wave of development along the corridor,” comments Ross, “and we’re fortunate that, right now, we have available acreage that’s zoned correctly, infrastructured and ready for development.”
Franklin County is working with regional and national site location companies and developers; many are actively searching to locate projects in the area. Ross points out that while the site location groups may gain more attention from a media standpoint, the FCADC offers local companies the same services. These include assistance with purchasing particular pieces of equipment, expanding facilities and other services. “It is critical for us that we support the companies that are here as aggressively as we try to attract other companies to locate here.”
Rather than spend big dollars on advertising, the FCADC believes the county’s many amenities – such as its prime location along the Interstate – helps it to sell itself. When site locators are looking for certain areas on behalf of business clients, many search for available space between Virginia and Pennsylvania along the I-81 corridor. The FCADC then becomes the local point of contact, showing prospective clients available land, buildings and business parks. While Franklin County recognizes it is in competition with its neighboring counties and is pleased when new businesses choose Pennsylvania, however should one of the other locations in the quad state region be chosen, the FCADC is supportive as it leads to the growth of the broader regional economy.
“We compete against our friends to the south, but if we are going to lose a project, we’d rather lose it to them because we’re building a regional economy, and we are trying to create employment opportunities for people who live here,” says Ross. “So we all benefit if we are promoting this region and trying to make things happen within the region, and hopefully, we get our share of them. That’s been our strategy.”
Since its formation, the FCADC has focused on retaining existing large entities like the Letterkenny Army Depot – a stalwart since 1942 – and Manitowoc Crane Group/Grove Crane as well as steadily building its manufacturing base. Additionally, the county is active in areas including transportation logistics, agriculture, tourism and recreational opportunities and the emerging technology sector. This fits its mandate of never becoming entirely dependent on any one company or one industry sector. Through diversification, the county has been able to ride the economy for decades and continues to perform. “Our goal is to create as much balance as we can, and that has worked well for us.”
The FCADC works with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) such as Volvo, Johnson Controls and other companies on a program involving supply chain management and connecting OEMs with suppliers. In this way, suppliers can be close to OEMs, which helps tremendously with just-in-time inventory control. Additionally, the corporation also offers assistance to suppliers on financing to purchase or upgrade equipment or even add to buildings. These and other efforts such as trips to Brazil, Europe and Ireland have helped to attract international suppliers to Franklin County.
“We need to make sure we’re creating planned growth in a way that we ensure we’re not growing simply for the sake of growth. We want to be certain we are improving the quality of life for people, improving our communities and creating varied opportunities for the people who are here or who are looking to move here and that those opportunities will expand the full gamut of jobs, from entry level to senior management-type positions. So, the future of Franklin County is very bright.”
“This is an area that is growing, and it is going to continue to grow in the foreseeable future; our challenge now is not whether we can create growth; it is whether we can manage it,” states Ross.