The South Mountain Partnership — a collection of state and local governments, conservationists, community groups and businesses — is seeking more midstate companies to join its efforts at sustainable community planning, development and promotion.
But that isn't always an easy sell in an economic environment where companies are hustling to bring in work or might be wholly unaware of the initiative to begin with, those involved with the partnership said.
The "South Mountain" is a unique landscape of Central Pennsylvania with a historic link to the region's industry, resources and recreation. It comprises the highlands of southern Cumberland County, northern York and Adams counties and eastern Franklin County. The mountains once were home to significant logging and iron-production companies going back 200 years, including Pine Grove Furnace, which today is a state park.
In the early 1900s, much of South Mountain became Michaux State Forest, one of Pennsylvania's first managed forests following then-U.S. Chief Forester and later Pennsylvania Gov. Gifford Pinchot's ideas on sustainability that would prevent the disastrous clear-cutting of the previous century.
The South Mountain Partnership is an effort to apply a similar sustainability to the micro-region's growth to create a healthy, vibrant community, said Jonathan Peterson, an environmental planner and partnership liaison with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in Boiling Springs.
"It's slightly different from traditional conservation," Peterson said. "The interconnection between the community and the landscape is important."
At the moment, most of the businesses involved with the partnership are agribusiness related, such as vineyards, farmers, farm markets and tourism locations, he said. There's a more natural connection there between those small, family businesses and the land, he said.
But non-ag companies such as engineering, manufacturing and logistics firms are welcome, too, Peterson said. It's important to have as many community members as possible to help direct the region's sustainable growth to maintain a good quality of life.
"We really believe in an inclusionary process," he said, "so we want input from as many stakeholders as possible."
There are hundreds of companies in the South Mountain region. It stretches from Chambersburg to Gettysburg, then north to Shippensburg, Carlisle and Dillsburg. The partnership has been around for about six years, but in that time it's had some difficulties reaching companies.
"We're just now trying to figure out how to reach out to the businesses," said Tom Englerth, a member of the partnership's leadership committee and a senior client manager at York-based engineering firm C.S. Davidson Inc.
The company has clients and staff who live in the South Mountain area, so it's a natural fit for the company to be involved. Economic development and tourism working alongside conservation will help protect the quality of life in the region, which will ultimately give it a good name and help it grow, he said.
"We're looking for the best and brightest to work for our company," Englerth said. "To attract people, or keep them here, we need to offer them more than just a career and a paycheck."
Everyone agrees balance is needed as the region plans for its growth, which continues at a decent clip. According to U.S. Census records, York County's population grew 14 percent between 2000 and 2010, while Adams and Cumberland counties grew 11 percent each. Franklin County grew 16 percent. Collectively, the counties added 106,000 people in the last decade.
"There's been a struggle between conservation and development, but you need both for a healthy community," said Shireen Farr, tourism director for the Cumberland Valley Visitors Bureau, an active participant in the partnership.
The lack of business involvement has more to do with the natural progression of a volunteer effort, she said.
"It's just that time in the maturing of the organization to engage the business community," Farr said.
"It's very difficult to get some of those folks involved, because they have their machine shop and they're busy with that, so they may not be affected by what happens in the forest," said Fred Peabody, president of the Cumberland Woodland Owners Association, a group of county landowners interested in sustainable private tree harvesting. The group is a member of the partnership.
Community planning within a landscape is important not just because of population growth but also to promote regional businesses to visitors coming for history and outdoor recreation in the South Mountain counties, Peterson said.
"Part of it is just awareness and getting the word out about the South Mountain Partnership, its tenets and what it believes in," Farr said.
That doesn't include preset agendas that would force top-down solutions onto communities, Peterson said. The partnership is more grassroots than that, which should resonate with businesses, too, he said.
If companies are adverse to conservation under the assumption it's anti-business, he hasn't run across that yet, he said. And even if he did, explaining how the partnership is an opportunity for companies to be involved in the growth of their communities should put the assumption to rest, he said.
"If you sit back and think about it, all the resources are contained in South Mountain," Englerth said. "It's the center of our region, and not to take care of that and capitalize on it is detrimental for our future."
The South Mountain Partnership is one of seven Conservation Landscape Initiatives, a program of the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources that seeks to improve the relationship between conservation and growth in distinct landscapes of Pennsylvania.
Each of the initiatives creates partnerships among state, county and local governments, tourism agencies, conservation groups, nonprofits, community members and businesses to plot out sustainable futures for the communities in its micro-region of the state.
It also supports community revitalization, recreational projects and tourism in the landscapes through micro-grants to government, educational and nonprofit groups. The state allots $60,000 to each initiative for the micro-grants, according to DCNR.
The other initiatives are the Laurel Highlands, Lehigh Valley Greenways, Lower Susquehanna Riverlands, Pennsylvania Wilds, Pocono Forests and Waters, and the Schuylkill Highlands.
The South Mountain Partnership is operated jointly by DCNR and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy with a leadership group that includes businesses, government and nonprofits in Adams, Cumberland, Franklin and York counties.
The partnership does not require membership dues or other financial commitments to be involved.
For more information on the landscape initiatives, their progress and contributions, visit www.dcnr.state.pa.us/cli.