There is a great deal to be said about Pike County, Pennsylvania, and there is even more to be experienced. Pike County is the birthplace of the American conservation movement; it is rich in history, bountiful in nature and offers a quality of life that is unmatched anywhere in the region.
Pike County is 550 square miles of rural county with one-third of the land committed to conservation. This has been designated as National Park Service lands, state parks and nature facilities. The county also enjoys the largest network of waterfalls in the Northeast United States.
Pike County offers a number of outdoor recreation opportunities as a result of its natural assets. It offers residents and visitors four seasons of fun with hunting, fishing, boating, hiking, biking, skiing, snowshoeing and tubing.
The Black Bear Film Festival runs from October 14 to 16, and many other arts and cultural attractions happen across the county. The county is home to The Column’s Museum, which features a major piece of Americana and part of Pike’s heritage: the American flag used to cradle Abraham Lincoln’s head the night he was assassinated.
The population of 56,000 people more than doubles over the summer months as tens of thousands of tourists visit each year. The county is bounded by the Delaware River Valley to the east and the beauty of the Poconos and Lake Wallenpaupack to the west, giving the perfect backdrop for a strong tourism industry.
“We don’t have a lot of infrastructure, so that leads into the beauty of Pike County because all of our streams are rated EV – which is exceptional value – and high-quality waterways. Every stream in Pike County is listed under either one of these criteria,” noted Commissioner Matt Osterberg, who is also chair of the Pike County Economic Development Authority (PCEDA).
“This community revolves around tourism and has revolved around tourism since the 1800s because of the beautiful water, the clean air, the eagles, all of those things are important to people that spend time on vacation. At the same time, now we have to realize that we can’t just depend our economic development on tourism.”
The economy in Pike County has become increasingly diverse. In addition to tourism, there are hospitality, real estate, healthcare, government, retail and a number of other sectors. There is also a strong sense of entrepreneurialism that is fostered and supported in Pike County.
“We have about 888 businesses in Pike County, but we have about 3,700 non-employers, which means that these are individuals that have their own business but don’t employ anybody,” explained Michael Sullivan, executive director of the Pike County Economic Development Authority. These entrepreneurs range from accountants and real estate agents to appraisers.
The beauty of Pike County is only one of the features that prove attractive to visitors, residents and investors alike. Pike County offers an affordable cost of living, a competitive tax structure, strong school districts, quality health care, a variety of affordable housing stock and ready access to New York, New England, New Jersey, Canada and the U.S. to the south and west.
The county is connected to Interstate-84 with access to Interstate-81, Interstate-80, Interstate-86 and the New York State Thruway. It provides all the services and amenities one would need and offers a logistical advantage and connectivity to urban centers.
“These are things that drive businesses,” Commissioner Osterberg explained. “When you start talking to them about how much money they can possibly save, whether it’s in taxes or personal income taxes or real estate taxes, we are substantially less than New York and New Jersey and all of those things plays a part.” He pointed out that Pike County also enjoys low electricity and insurance costs.
Pike County has been careful when identifying new economic opportunities, taking a thoughtful approach to growth. Though the conditions are ideal for investment and development, there are other considerations. This is the home of Gifford Pinchot, father of American conservationism, and much of the geography in Pike County is unsuited to development and industry as well as limited in the infrastructure to support it.
“Geography can work against us,” Commissioner Osterberg acknowledged. “We have very few sites that are developable. We are doing this with private developers to get them to invest in industrial sites. We have very little difficulty getting people interested in Pike County, but we have a greater problem with siting them, so we are going after the private sector to invest in it.”
Using the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS), the county has been able to identify codes that fit within the county’s development goals. As Sullivan explained, “There are probably 3,000 different types of code. In manufacturing, there are probably 700 of them, and of that 700, we have identified 68 of them that we believe would work very well in Pike County.”
Pike County is encouraging the private sector to buy land and develop it in a way that would be suitable for the county’s development. It has had great success with this method, securing companies like LP Cylinders and Kahr Arms as a result.
Both LP Cylinders and Kahr Arms meet the county’s development criteria. “You wouldn’t even know they are there,” said Commissioner Osterberg. “They are very well landscaped. When you ride down Route 6, you won’t even see LP Cylinders, and when you go on 343, you’d have to work to see where Kahr Arms is.”
One of the best examples of a company blending into the landscape of the county is a packaging firm recruited from New Jersey. “They came over here with about 230 jobs, and now they have 550. Packaging is no smoke-stack, no effluent, and there is no waste stream,” meaning it ideally meets Pike County’s development requirements, said Sullivan.
There is an increasing economic foundation in Pike County, as serious efforts are being made to shed its reputation as a bedroom community. “One of the things we like to talk about is the idea of encouraging, promoting and facilitating new commercial and industrial activity in Pike County,” Sullivan said.
The development authority has embarked on a program to recruit new business into the county built upon the strategy of “not being everything to everybody” and staying true to its defining qualities. The economic recession was particularly hard on Pike County, and that initiated this push to diversify economically and grow the local job base.
From 1990 to 2000, this was the fastest growing county in the state of Pennsylvania, growing by 65.2 percent. Between 2000 and 2010, the area continued to grow an additional 23.9 percent as people were drawn to the exceptional quality of life.
Prior to the downturn of 2007 to 2008, homebuilding was driving economic growth. As with many other communities, homebuilding then folded and left a wake of economic and social challenges.
Two years ago, Pike County had the worst unemployment rate in the state, but through the efforts of the Pike County Economic Development Authority and other local stakeholders, as of December 2015, Pike County’s unemployment rate returned to pre-recession levels.
“We had to not only make up the deficit caused by the Great Recession, we had to make up for a total industry what was wiped out in Pike County,” Sullivan noted, referring to the loss of homebuilding. “We’re very proud of the fact that we’ve been able to bring in some jobs to replace homebuilding with manufacturing. It’s a big deal for us.”
PCEDA works to provide accessible and comprehensive resources to support business engagement, attraction, promotion and advancement, through resources, initiatives, programs and considered economic development strategies. Business incubators are available to support business and entrepreneurship.
The EDA promotes the county’s many assets and is very proud of the area’s school districts. Wallenpaupack School District and the Delaware Valley School District are ranked among the best in the state and the nation, with Delaware Valley ranking in the top three percent of schools districts nationally.
“Living here and raising my kids here, I couldn’t ask for a better place,” proclaimed Commissioner Osterberg, who has been lucky enough to work and live here for most of his life. He wants to give more residents the opportunity to work closer to home.
“This is about growing the employment rate, but it’s also about bringing people home to work closer to their homes,” he acknowledged. “If we can bring people closer to their families, then we can strengthen many other different issues in the community.”
“When parents have to be away from their families for eight to twelve hours a day, there is going to be stress put on the family, which is going to put stress on the community, which is going to put stress upon the church, the government and everybody else that provides services – the schools – so this is more than just about finding people jobs.”
The community was beginning to feel the stress of a being a commuter population, so the Pike County Government, Pike County Workforce Development Agency, Pike County Economic Development Authority and eight faith-based congregations of various denominations made a major push to address these concerns.
In April, the Working Pike Job Fair took place. The job fair was attended by 67 employers and over six hundred job seekers. The job fair even attracted the attention of an Italian entrepreneur who was able to find qualified and available labor to facilitate the launch of his Elite Shopping TV Network in Pike County.
“Our primary goal right now is the idea of getting private investors to develop individual sites in Pike County. That will accelerate us,” noted Sullivan. “We have targeted very specific industries and very specific geographic locations.”
There is no shortage of reasons to visit Pike County, and there is a multitude of reasons to stay. Whether it is the outdoors, the growing economic strength, the variety of housing stock, the affordability, the competitive tax environment, the picturesque scenery, the history or the commitment to conservation and thoughtful development, Pike County has something for everyone.
Pike County continues to identify ways to improve the social and economic foundation of the community emphasizing it as a great place to live, work and be.