Intersected by the Susquehanna River, Wyoming County, Pennsylvania may be a peaceful, rural region with a population of just over 28,000, but it is perfectly placed for growth. Currently, efforts are being made to take full advantage of the area’s natural resources while maintaining its quality of life.
Wyoming County is strategizing how to use the Marcellus Shale Play, its region’s natural gas formation, to continue its economic development in the county. The shale formation holds vast natural gas reserves, however accessibility to these reserves is currently limited.
Spearheading this is the Wyoming County Chamber of Commerce, an economic development entity that is on a mission to support small business and help the county develop further, thus improving the quality of life for all. In addition to ensuring that resources, such as workforce, are available, it also coordinates programs and activities like educational luncheons and advocacy meetings to bring local issues to the attention of the state and federal government.
The Wyoming County Chamber of Commerce has been in operation for twenty-five years and over its history has promoted coordination amongst stakeholders in the community, while identifying opportunities for growth.
“The primary focus of our Chamber of Commerce will always be to help our small businesses to grow and sustain, and we partner with many different organizations to achieve that,” said Gina Suydam, president of the Wyoming County Chamber of Commerce.
Suydam explained that the impetus for the Chamber’s founding was fear and uncertainty. “When Walmart plans to come to a small, rural community, small businesses get a little concerned. Small business came together and formed the chamber to ensure that the small business interests in the community were also being taken care of. Since then, the chamber has grown leaps and bounds. Walmart is now a member, and they are very supportive of the Chamber, and our small businesses are supportive of Walmart.”
The 450-member chamber is doing its part to drive growth and promote the benefits associated with living and working in Wyoming County. Its work has primarily been centered on the natural resource sectors, which will be a beacon for additional expansion in the county.
“Companies are able to grow from the development of natural gas here in Wyoming County. There are companies who started oilfield supply services for the natural gas industry, and those companies have been able to diversify and sustain,” Suydam pointed out, citing the example of Taylor Rental/BX3. This company began servicing the natural gas industry in 2008 and now provides reliable, quality rental equipment to various industries throughout the region.
“It’s not just the growth that comes from large oil and gas industry companies coming into the area; it’s the growth that can be developed by small businesses: our local tire and car repair companies. Our hotel & hospitality industry has also grown due to the presence of the gas industry.” She notes that twenty years ago, the only hotel in town was Shadowbrook Resort; Wyoming County now has a Hampton Inn and Comfort Inn and Suites.
While natural gas has had a significant impact on development and growth in Wyoming County, there is still a great deal of untapped potential. GET Gas is one of the ways that the chamber of commerce and its partners are working to utilize the county’s natural gas assets for its benefit. GET Gas stands for Growth Extension Tariff and is helping to bring the Tunkhannock Natural Gas Extension Project to life.
“Unfortunately, because we are a rural community, we don’t have the benefit of utilizing the natural gas service for most of our residents and small businesses. Discussion began when the industry came to the area about how we can use this resource as a local utility,” Suydam explained.
The Wyoming County Chamber of Commerce has applied for a $1 million grant from the state’s Department of Community and Economic Development to offset some of the costs of installing pipeline infrastructure.
The project is anticipated to cost over $2 million, of which, a substantial amount will be covered by UGI Utilities. While the $1 million pipeline extension grant from the state will help, there is still a gap in funding for the program to afford the 18,000 feet of pipe required to get Wyoming County connected. The Chamber is developing final details to ensure the funding of this project.
“The GET Gas tariff spreads that initial upfront cost over the course of several years for a resident to hook up. It’s primarily a residential program, however, UGI has plans to work with businesses interested in utilizing this newly available resource,” said Suydam.
Property in Wyoming County is not only available, but it also is affordable and offers diverse housing stock on expansive lots. “There is land available, and we are recruiting developers and companies to come into the area and bring more business to Wyoming County,” said Suydam.
As well as natural gas, Northeastern Pennsylvania is blessed with an abundance of hardwood, leading to the success of companies that produce lumber and other wood products. The county is home to Deer Park Lumber, Inc. and Proctor and Gamble, the largest paper maker of its kind and a huge employer.
Other major employers in the county include Williams, Southwestern Energy, and Tyler Memorial Hospital. There are also numerous downstream companies and various small businesses that comprise Chamber membership.
The region is regarded for its hardworking population. The business community is working closely with local school boards and institutions of higher learning on workforce development to strengthen the economic foundation of the county. Keystone College, the Tunkhannock Area School District, and Lackawanna Trail School District, are all playing a part.
“We’re looking to develop more career technical programs to fill the gap in the workforce,” noted Suydam. “Our school system is already developed for that.”
The Wyoming County Chamber of Commerce recognizes that economic development takes a concerted effort and works in partnership with multiple entities to stimulate the economy and community development in the region.
Other partners include the Small Business Development Center, that operates from the University of Scranton; SCORE, a non-profit volunteer organization that serves as a resource to small business in the region; and Northern Tier PREP (Partnerships for Regional Economic Performance), a statewide network of partners.
Wyoming County is approximately forty minutes from Scranton and Wilkes-Barre and less than three hours from large centers like Philadelphia and New York City. “We’re an easy commute to those areas for additional business,” Suydam believes. “This would be a great central location for a business park area.”
This proximity to larger populations affords Wyoming County the opportunity to actively engage with partners in the region and share assets, and attract a good deal of tourists to the community citing, “it’s close enough to get away, yet far enough to feel away.” Wyoming County also has a hospital and the amenities to meet its residents’ needs.
Like those of Chambers of Commerce far and wide, the role of Wyoming County Chamber of Commerce is evolving to reflect the changing economic and social landscape in the county. Suydam explained that this is being achieved through member consultation.
“We’re interested in hearing from our members about how we can best serve them; we and many Chambers across the country realize you can’t service a business that has two thousand employees the same way you service a business with two employees. What services do our businesses need, and how do they differ? How do the small business’ needs differ from a large company, and how can we, as a Chamber, position ourselves to service both of these companies?”
The goal is to ensure that, regardless of a member’s size, Chamber membership benefits all. “The Chamber is expanding programs and services offered, aligning ourselves with the growth we hope to see throughout the county, positioning ourselves to assist in that growth and development.”
While a natural gas strategy remains the current priority of the Wyoming County Chamber of Commerce, there are other initiatives to further elevate the county as destination for residents and businesses. One of these is the county’s downtown revitalization project that seeks to improve the economic vitality and vibrancy of the community further.
This is “a great area to raise children and to build a family. It’s an ideal area to unplug from that hustle of the workplace,” said Suydam.