Mercer County is an ideal location for manufacturing operations—and much more. Since the Penn-Northwest Development Corporation (PNDC) kicked off the “Make it in Mercer County!” campaign four years ago, 16 new companies have located in the business friendly community. And that is only the beginning; the county’s aggressive business attraction strategies continue to draw interest from big name corporations.
Incoming businesses take advantage of the community’s strong history of manufacturing. “Mercer County was built on the steel industry,” says PNDC President & CEO Randy Seitz. “For nearly a century, steel production was done in and around Mercer County. That manufacturing mindset and the training that has been provided to our employees make us ideal for any large manufacturing operation.”
In addition to having an experienced workforce, Mercer County’s supply infrastructure is already in place. “Because we were a large steel production area at one point in time, we have an excellent manufacturing supply base. Most of the supplies that large manufacturers would need we have in and around Mercer County.”
Rock bottom real estate prices are another key attraction. “If you compare them to national prices for land and real estate, Mercer County is quite a bit lower. A lot of communities would cost around $80,000 an acre on average. Our average price is about $15,000 per acre.” Once the land is purchased, building costs are lower as well.
Incentives sweeten an already good deal. “The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has very attractive incentives. In some cases [incoming] companies have received a little bit of grant money, they have received job creation tax credits, and in some cases they have received low interest financing on real estate and equipment.
Location is also a big draw. “We are within a day’s drive of more than half of the U.S. markets,” Mr. Seitz points out. “Within a day you can be in Chicago, within a day you can be in New York, within a day you can be in Washington D.C.” The community enjoys easy access to two major international airports and sits at the crossroads of Interstate 80 and Interstate 79, Pennsylvania’s major north/south and east/west highways.
Equally critical, Mercer County boasts the natural resources that manufacturers need. “We have a large supply of water, which is great for food processing. We also have a large agricultural community. We also have a long lasting—some even say 100 years—supply of low cost, natural gas within our community. So the industries that we are really targeting right now are any industries that use large quantities of natural gas or water in their manufacturing process. Not only can we can save them money in real estate, but we can also save them money in natural gas and water costs.”
Sectors that fit these criteria include injection molding, thermal plastic molding, glass manufacturing, and food processing. “Those are all industries that are on our radar screen,” says Mr. Seitz. Currently, Mercer County is home to several companies producing tubes, pipes, and crankshafts, as well as multiple steel fabrication operations, and a well known locomotive engine manufacturer, GE Transportation. There are also several food processers operating within the community, including Fairview Swiss Cheese, one of America’s largest cheese processing facilities, and Joy Cone Co., the world’s largest ice cream cone manufacturer.
Notable newcomers include Canadian based Noise Solutions, which opened a 55,000 square foot manufacturing plant in Mercer County in 2014. The industrial noise control producer is expected to create a total of 126 new jobs and has invested $10 million in the community. Boise Cascade—the 13th largest forest products company in the world—also moved into Mercer County in 2014. The forestry giant established a $600,000 distribution center off of Interstate 80 for easy access to major U.S. markets. Penn Stainless Products purchased 17 acres in Mercer County that same year in order to build a 30,000 square foot distribution facility just off Interstate 79. The move brought an overall capital investment of $3 million and will create up to 30 new full-time jobs in the specialty stainless steel sector.
Mangrove Jack, an Australian manufacturer of portable boat trailers, is in the process of locating in Mercer County. The company’s Managing Director recently spent six weeks in the community, ironing out the details on how his business can “Make it in Mercer County!” Mercer County is also welcoming Austin Rubber. The company has chosen the community for the site of an innovative new process. “Austin Rubber has invented the process of devulcanizing rubber,” Mr. Seitz explains. In the past, “when you had an old tire from your car that you wanted to dispose of, it was very hard for you to do.” This is because “once rubber is vulcanized and turned into something like a tire it can’t be remelted and turned into something else.” Until Austin Rubber came on the scene, that is. “Because Austin Rubber has invented the process to devulcanize rubber, we can now take the tire and make a tire out of it again.”
Quality of life
Incoming companies are attracted to Mercer County’s quality of life in addition to its positive business climate. Outdoor activities are popular throughout the rural community. “We are in the northeastern part of the United States, so we get to enjoy the four different seasons of spring, summer, winter, and fall,” Mr. Seitz points out. “This makes it ideal for outdoor recreation.” With plenty of public parks and scenic trails, residents enjoy easy access to hiking and biking. The County’s generous waterways make the community an ideal destination for kayaking and trout fishing, and hunting is also popular.
Mercer County is also a favorite spot for geocaching, an activity in which competitors use GPS tracking systems to locate different treasures hidden throughout the community. “We get people from as far as Canada that come into the country for geocaching.” Mercer County boasts multiple golf courses—including the only free 9-hole golf course in America —and golfers can take advantage of local resorts’ Stay & Play packages.
The community is also a major shopping destination. “Mercer County has one of the most successful outlet malls,” Mr. Seitz shares. “It attracts over 6 million visitors each year.” With over 140 shops, Grove City Premium Outlets is one of the largest outlets in the nation. The county’s more memorable stores include Daffin’s Candies, touted as the World’s Largest Candy Store (and home to a 700 pound chocolate rabbit); Reyers, The World’s Largest Shoe Store at 36,000 square feet, and the Winner, which is known as the World’s Largest Off-Price Fashion Store.
Just an hour from Pittsburgh and Cleveland, Mercer County residents enjoy easy access to plenty of urban amenities, from museums to professional sports including the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns. However, residents do not have to travel to the city to find top-notch educational opportunities. The region is home to over 35 colleges and universities including Grove City College, Thiel College, Westminster College, Youngstown State University, and Pennsylvania State University-Penn State Shenango.
Planning for the future
Mr. Seitz and his colleagues at PNDC are eager to keep the county moving forward. “Over the long run, we want to continue to grow the population in Mercer County. We want to continue to attract the types of jobs that attract young, educated, talented families into Mercer County,” he says.
“We want to bring in enough development and investment opportunities to create family-sustaining jobs that will keep the unemployment rate down. Then, as we attract young, talented families back to the community, we want to grow the educational obtainment of Mercer County where the largest [portion] of our population is well trained, well skilled and well educated.”
To enact this plan, the team will expand their net to draw in a wider range of industry. “We want to go after not just [traditional] manufacturing companies, but high value, high tech manufacturing companies. And we also want to target high tech companies like computer programming and STEM related companies.” These sectors will be able to take advantage of Mercer County’s many attributes—from a low cost of business to a skilled workforce and strategic location—to “Make it in Mercer County!”