Local officials: Economy shows signs of life

Local and county officials say they’re cautiously optimistic that economic development is picking up in Western York County, due to a mix of improved growth forecasts and tweaks in economic incentives.

“Overall, economic activity has increased, but it has certainly increased in the western part of the county as well,” said Mark Farris, director of York County Economic Development, who forsees stable but not explosive growth for the next few years.

Farris said he expects to announce within the next couple months an existing building under contract in the western part of the county that will mean 100 jobs and an investment of $10 million.

And York Mayor Eddie Lee said the city of York is getting more nibbles, too. He said the city has in recent weeks had meetings with developers about grocery stores and restaurants in the area of the Alexander Love Bypass — an area he sees as York’s economic future.

“I’ve seen it brighten. Winter is about over, and I think there’s been a kind of brightening in economic development,” Lee said. “Because we’ve had these nibbles I’m talking about.”

Last year, Lee and several other Western York County leaders asked the county development board to strengthen its commitment to promoting the region by increasing industrial zoning, inproving marketing and creating greater economic incentives for businesses.

Farris said the announcement late last year of PermaShrink’s venture at Westgate Industrial Park outside Clover was a direct result of the discussions with officials from Western York County.

PermaShrink announced in December that it will spend $3.3 million to equip a plant outside the Clover town limits. When open, the plant is expected to employ about 16 people in manufacturing and office positions.

Farris said the county agreed to lower to $2.5 million the minimum business investment required for a property tax break, as a business incentive. York County has an artificial minimum investment of $5 million to qualify for that incentive, he said, but the state-mandated minimum is only $2.5 million.

“What we did for PermaShrink, and what we’re doing for companies that locate in areas of the county with higher unemployment and lower per capital income, is we’ll drop that to the statutory minimum of $2.5 million,” he said.

The tax break arrangement allows the county to reduce the tax assessment on real and personal property for companies that make a certain level of economic investment from 10.5 percent to 6.5 percent, which results in a lower tax bill, Farris said.

Farris said economic activity right now is “the best it’s been in two years.” However, he cautioned that it takes an average of 18 months from the time a company contacts the county to the time when they’re ready to occupy a building or build on a site.

“While activity has increased, it’s going to take us a little while to see the results of that,” said Farris, whose role deals exclusively with manufacturing, distribution and office space.

But those aren’t the only areas of growth. The York City Council recently gave preliminary approval to plans for a 52-area mixed use development called Olde York Square.

The proposed development, planned at S.C. 5 and the bypass west of York, includes a senior living facility on 12 areas, as well as parcels for restaurants and stores, and patio homes and condos.

Construction is expected to begin this summer if the project receives final approval, and the project could be open in late 2012. Developer Chris Sinz said he hopes the senior living facility which has been added to the project will help attract stores, office and other commercial development that is tailored to seniors.

Lee called the bypass “the new frontier of economic development in York, where jobs are going to be, restaurants are going to be.” He said the bypass needs to be vigorously marketed.

Farris and Jim Bradford, chairman of the York County Economic Development Board, said the agency would like to add a position to Farris’ four-member staff who could help market the county’s rural areas.

“What we’re suggesting is that this person might focus on some of the more rural areas, areas that have higher unemployment than average, that have perhaps lower per capita income than average in the county,” Bradford said.

Keeping an inventory of buildings across the county that are ready to be occupied is another tactic employed to encourage development, Bradford said. “If you don’t have buildings that are in existence, if you don’t have certified sites, they don’t even come and look,” he said.

Bradford said he’s cautiously optimistic that things are looking up.

“In terms of the pace of economic activity, we feel like we’ve made some progress in the last 18 months,” he said. “We think that manufacturers and others seem to be flexing their muscles and thinking about expanding their operations, and bringing people back to work.”

By Jennifer Becknell, Staff Reporter with Enquirer-Herald