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Volvo spurs Shippensburg interest

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For the past of couple years, many in the Shippensburg area have been optimistic about what Volvo Construction Equipment's expansion could mean for economic development in southern Cumberland and northern Franklin counties.

There are some signs that as the economy improves, so, too, is interest in Shippensburg-area real estate, executives said, but the market isn't seeing a flood of activity.

Volvo recently acquired 80 acres on Rowe Road near its factory on the Franklin County side of Shippensburg to build a customer demonstration and training center for the large road construction equipment it makes there, said Meg Dameron, a Volvo spokeswoman.

"The next step is really to get into our construction timeline and make sure we're up and running for the 2014 training season," she said.

The center will include a 53,000-square-foot building and multiple outdoor demonstration areas so that construction companies and equipment retailers can get a closer look at the soil and asphalt compactors, pavers and other machines made in the factory.

Volvo also is nearing completion of its 36,000-square-foot office building, expected to be done in March, Dameron said. The company needs the extra space to accommodate the 150 people moving with its operations from North Carolina. The company employs about 975 people in Shippensburg, including 45 who work for the Volvo Rents division.

The company is expecting a lot of traffic to the demonstration center, Dameron said. A similar center in Asheville, N.C., has about 10,000 visitors a year, she said. The traffic could be the boost some people in the area are looking for.

"People have seen the sign of real commitment to the community," Dameron said, "so I think there's some confidence that has come from that and the investments we've made here."

Other real estate projects loom on the Cumberland County side of Shippensburg. Aman Parekh, one of the developers of the Candlewood Suites Hotel in Dauphin County, is planning a four-story hotel and stores for 120 and 122 Walnut Bottom Road in Shippensburg Township.

The plan for the 12,000-square-foot hotel on seven acres is still in sketch phases as Parekh and the township's engineers discuss traffic and planning issues with the site, township Secretary Linda Asper said.

"There is some discussion of them developing this in phases and that could lessen the need for a traffic light," Asper said.

The project doesn't have a timeline but it's unlikely site issues would kill it, said Tim Cormany, vice president of planning with the township's engineering firm Chambersburg-based Martin and Martin Inc.

"If they have this much interest and have taken theses steps, then they're expecting to meet requirements and move forward," Cormany said.

In the past, economic development officials have said hotels and restaurants are some of the first things to pop up when large companies expand as Volvo did. It wouldn't be a surprise if Parekh's plans were meant to capture some of that audience, but Cormany doubts it's a significant factor.

"I had the same thoughts when I saw the hotel," he said, "but it's really not the case."

For starters, the hotel is on the opposite side of town from Volvo, he said. Second, it's a smaller hotel that's better suited to cater to the traffic coming off Interstate 81, not necessarily the high-end type catering to business executives.

However, it could serve the families of college students or alumni visiting Shippensburg University, which just completed the first phase in a $200 million project to build modern and expanded residence halls and other facilities on campus.

Cormany said he's heard that Volvo's increased presence could generate more business activity around Shippensburg, but he hasn't seen it yet. Some municipalities have to rethink their land-use plans before significant real estate development occurs, he said.

There's still interest in the area, and some real estate sectors are improving gradually with the economy, said Ron Sailhamer, the owner and broker of Shippensburg-based Sailhamer Real Estate Inc.

"We are seeing and hearing from potential developers in the restaurant and big-box store segment asking about the area," he said.

Commercial and industrial development is slower to rebound than some residential segments, he said. For example, residential real estate above $295,000 is seeing brisk sales activity.

There also are inquiries for truck terminal locations, but few letters of intent to buy and build, which reflects a lack of commitment, he said.

"Anything when it comes to commercial and industrial is like a giant chess game," Sailhamer said. "You don't know what's happening on the back side."

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