Central Pennsylvania continues to be on the radar screen for many big corporations, according to a national business relocation firm that serves corporate clients in a number of manufacturing and service industries.
For starters, the Panama Canal expansion will increase container traffic into Maryland, New York and New Jersey. That should result in continued distribution center growth, which benefits the midstate and its plethora of major highways, said John Boyd Jr., principal of New Jersey-based The Boyd Co. Inc.
Having a pro-business governor in Tom Corbett also helps, he said.
"The first thing our clients ask about is the legislative climate and attitude toward business," said Boyd, who works with the likes of PepsiCo and JPMorgan Chase.
Corbett has signed three straight budgets without any broad-based tax increases, while also pushing several tax cuts for business. Natural-gas drilling is something Boyd's clients like because it drives additional state revenue and mitigates pressures to increase property taxes in Pennsylvania, he said.
Lower costs for land and wages in Pennsylvania also creates greater potential for companies to relocate here, Boyd said. Central Pennsylvania should be in the mix for data and call centers as well as advanced manufacturing.
"For years, York has been a growth extension outside of Baltimore County. We see a lot of interest, particularly in distribution and perhaps some health care operations," Boyd said.
The commonwealth's biggest negative is its non-"Right to Work" status, he said.
"That limits how successful Pennsylvania can be to attract and revitalize a strong manufacturing workforce," he said.
The fact that we're still in a climate of consolidation also is a hindrance.
"By and large, companies are restructuring and not really opening new facilities," Boyd said. "That is reflective in the stagnant unemployment numbers."
Activity continues to be strong in the Harrisburg area, but it's mostly lateral movement where companies are upgrading their local space, said Art Campbell, president of Lemoyne-based Campbell Commercial Real Estate Inc.
Most of the recent activity has been in the Camp Hill area, Campbell said, citing its proximity to the East Shore. The largest absorption of space is the Comcast call center in Susquehanna Township, he said.
"There continues to be, especially with small businesses, uncertainty about the impact of health care (reform)," he said. "People are still holding off on making a lot of decisions."
High Real Estate Group LLC has seen an uptick in buying activity due to rising interest rates, said Linford Good, senior vice president of brokerage services for the East Lampeter Township-based company.
"The interest rate environment is improving our business substantially," he said.
Good said he expects the commercial market to continue trending up based on inquiries and completed deals so far this year.
Retailers are in the market for more-prominent locations and additional sites, said Chad Stine, president and CEO of York-based Bennett Williams Realty Inc.
The firm has seen a steady uptick in activity over the last six to 12 months, he said. Much of that activity has yet to translate to closed deals.
"It's busier now than what it was 12 months ago," Stine said. "Deals are coming to me from outside brokers, and I'm taking deals to property owners based on tenants I represent. A few years back, we tried to find ways to occupy our time and do damage control versus doing new deals."
Bennett Williams has grown by nearly 20 percent over the last eight months, he said. It now has nearly 40 people on staff.
If the retail market continues to improve, Stine said speculative building could soon make a comeback.