Franklin County forecasts more growth in 2018

By Mike Lewis
L. Michael Ross, president of the Franklin County Area Development Corp., presents the organization’s annual report to a crowd of more than 170 people at the Chambersburg Country Club in Scotland, Pa.

SCOTLAND, Pa. — Near the end of his slide presentation, L. Michael Ross paused and looked at the crowd who had gathered to hear it.

“We’re a busy operation,” he said. “There’s a lot going on.”

Ross is president of the Franklin County Area Development Corp. He gave an annual report to more than 170 people recently at the Chambersburg (Pa.) Country Club.

The corporation and the county enjoyed a banner year in 2017, he told them. Judging from the corporation’s outlook and a survey of businesses, 2018 could be even better. And things also look positive for a wider region that includes Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia

“We are clearly on the map. We’re on every developer’s radar. … For so long we’ve flown under the radar. Now we’re being seen by everybody. There’s going to be lots of growth challenges over the next decade,” he said of Franklin County during an interview after the meeting. 

For 2017, he said, the corporation listed 14 projects and recorded more than $32.8 million in private investment. In all, the corporation counted the retention of 201 jobs and the creation of 259. 

Each $1 of economic development resources resulted in more than $21 of private capital investment, he said.

Since November 2016, he reported, 900 jobs have been created.

The corporation already has several projects in the works for 2018.

Key to this is the county’s location. It’s within a day’s drive of 50 percent of the U.S. population, with access to Interstate 81 and all modes of transportation. In addition, he said, there are more than 1,500 acres “zoned, infrastructured and available for industrial and commercial development.”

Activities at the federal level, such as the recent tax reform and a potential infrastructure bill,  could help spur even more  economic activity.

A major development issue, he said, will be finding the right people with the right skills to fill the available jobs. Those issues go beyond training and workforce development, he said. For example, in response to a question, he agreed there is a “critical need” for day care.

“Everyone needs to be taking a very hard look” at the possibility of having day care at their operations, he said.

To find out a few more details about what could be in store for 2018, the corporation surveyed local companies across all economic sectors.

According to the survey, the top three challenges for businesses are related to workforce. Those include a lack of skilled workers, a shortage of people with more technical skills and difficulty in attracting qualified candidates.

Government regulations ranked as the No. 4 concern.

A few other highlights from the survey:

• 84 percent of respondents are looking to hire in 2018.

• 75 percent plan to hire one to five people.

• 11 percent plan to hire more than 50 people.

• 19 percent are planning some type of facility expansion.

• 84 percent anticipate making a capital investment in 2018.

• 49 percent are looking at a capital investment of more than $100,000.

 

By the numbers

A few highlights from the Franklin County (Pa.) Area Development Corp.’s 2017 annual report:

• 77,066: The average 12-month labor force in 2017.

• 4.45 percent: The average 12-month unemployment rate in 2017.

• 2.8 percent: Population growth since 2010, the sixth-fastest in the state.