Small County, Big Business Boom

Jefferson County Development Council
Written by Karen Hawthorne

From a seed-to-sale medical cannabis facility to the largest dealership of Mack and Volvo tractor trailer trucks in the state, here’s how a small county in rural Pennsylvania is fast tracking growth.
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Cresco Yeltrah is here, dedicated to providing the patients of the Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Program with high quality and precisely dosed products. The Legacy Truck Center development is slated for completion in spring 2019, adding 50 new diesel mechanics jobs. One of the largest employers in the County, Penn Highlands Healthcare plans to invest $100 million in the next five years, recruiting close to 150 doctors, 250 nurses and 260 ancillary staff. And Jeff Tech, the local trade school, along with others, are developing curricula to educate displaced workers and youth to fill new local jobs.

Why does Jefferson County, a rural area in north-central Pennsylvania about two hours north of Pittsburgh, stand out for good business? Community partners work to showcase the best of the County’s award-winning economic programs and the amazing quality of life. “We’re basically rolling the red carpet out and saying we’ve got a lot to offer,” says Brad Lashinsky, Executive Director of Jefferson County Development Council headquartered in Brookville, the County seat.

He’s proud to say that with a population of 44,000 and unemployment at 3.7 percent, Jefferson County has the fifth lowest cost of living in the state, so a home with a yard and room for a pool or garden is affordable. And the County is a travel hub, with a major interstate and state roads running through that make it easy for businesses to move products east, west, north and south.

Beyond innovative business programs and a great location, there’s a lot of good living to be had in Jefferson County, with nature right at your doorstep for kayaking, boating, fishing, great bike trails and wide-open country skies. Cook Forest State Park has old-growth forests with stands of giant trees, all the while meeting the demands of today’s visitors with access to wi-fi services in the perfect location for a family vacation or corporate retreat.

“Just down the road in DuBois, there are state of the art baseball and softball fields that this past year, hosted the small college world series,” Lashinsky says of amenities that appeal to all ages and families like his own wife and two daughters, 10 and 12, who’ve lived in the County for six years and plan to stay.

“We have whiskey distilleries and craft breweries here; you can easily do a day trip to Pittsburgh or Erie. It’s a low-key way of life – safe, friendly and inviting.”

Lashinsky is the point man for the County’s “welcome wagon” of public officials, business leaders, real estate agents and school board members, etc. who meet with new companies and talent considering relocating to Jefferson County. “When you’re recruiting an individual, you’re actually recruiting their family and we’ve got to be able to provide excellent opportunities beyond just what the employer can offer,” he says.

When the head cultivator for Cresco and his fiancée with a background in archeology came in from the state of Washington, Lashinsky arranged lunch with the Jefferson County Historical Society. Now she is serving on the society’s board, fulfilling her passion.

“That’s what it’s about,” he explains, “making a connection. As a community, wrapping your arms around them, welcoming them and helping them find property and opportunities surrounding their interests.”

Here in the County, doing good business is about building relationships and getting to know people, he says, along with all the great things that can grow out of working together as a group. Although the Development Council has a small but mighty staff, the network of community organizations and state partners is large.

The Council recently formed the Jefferson County Resource Partnership (JCRP), a collection of professionals who comprise the economic development delivery system in the county with a focus on providing assistance to businesses in all stages of business development and growth.

The Pennsylvania Economic Development Association named Jefferson County Development Council economic development partner of the year in 2017 because of the work it had done not only creating the JCRP but also with the Legacy Truck Center project. The Council worked with the Brookville Borough Office to take over a 115,000-square-foot abandoned hotel property that had fallen into disrepair located less than a quarter-mile from the Brookville High School. The Council worked with taxing authorities to exonerate the back taxes and with the lien holders to take the building over for a fraction of the half-million dollars of debt associated with the building.

“We made a promise to the school board that we would tear the building down and work with a committee of school board members, the county commissioners and borough officials to examine what really made sense for that property.”

The Council applied for a state loan for assistance and was approached by Legacy to purchase and develop the property. Upon closing, the Council also paid $100,000 of back taxes to the taxing authorities which caught them by surprise but was “the right thing to do,” he says.

This past year JCDC in conjunction with the North Central Regional Planning and Development Commission and the Clarion Small Business Development Center interviewed with the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development for $100,000 in regional funding from a program called Engage where a group professionals meet one-on-one with a company to listen to what their needs are and develop an aftercare program to address those needs.

“It was easy to provide the state examples of what we’re already doing, which is essentially what the Engage program was about,” Lashinsky says. “This year we have targeted 50 companies to meet with through our partnership to hear what their needs are, whether that is workforce development, financial lending, marketing – you name it, we’re there to help.”

The end result of the Development Council’s hard work and economic strategy is opportunity for the future – more jobs, better quality of life and a better community. That’s a good prize to keep your eye on and one Lashinsky values. His role is about helping people and, in turn, helping the community grow.

“It’s the relationships that you build. You get to know people, you work with local representatives and state officials, and help local businesses out,” he says. “Every opportunity that I’m creating really is one more opportunity I’m presenting to residents of Jefferson County for employment.”

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