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Manheim business groups, officials bullish on growth

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Manheim business groups and municipal officials agree future development will not occur in the borough.

However, they're fairly confident that major growth outside it will have a positive impact on the business climate in the borough as well as the larger Manheim-Lititz area.

Like other boroughs in Central Pennsylvania, Manheim is maxed out on available space for development, its population has remained somewhat steady in recent years, and Main Street is dotted with vacant storefronts, said Mark Stivers, the borough manager.

"Our growth has been really slow," he said. "We're limited in space as a borough."

Ongoing redevelopment of former manufacturing properties on the borough's east side is one way for it to grow its business base, but filling vacant storefronts is necessary, too. That's where development in the townships around Manheim and Lititz comes into play.

Rapho and Penn townships are expected to grow, said Tom Showers, president of the Manheim Area Economic Development Corp.

"We're working on a plan for how we can make this all benefit the community," he said.

As development occurs in the townships, it could generate traffic for the entire region, increasing the need for businesses in retail, restaurant and even industrial uses — the same type of spinoff activity that often occurs around other large businesses, Stivers said.

"What we're hoping is that facilities such as Rock Lititz and Spooky Nook Sports will have an impact and can be used as an economic driver," he said.

Rock Lititz is a planned 96-acre campus in Warwick Township to be the new home for Clair Global, Tait Towers and Atomic Design. The companies build sound systems, stages and custom lighting for concerts and other entertainment venues around the world.

Spooky Nook Sports is the new 700,000-square-foot indoor and 50-acre outdoor sports complex in East Hempfield Township that's attracting large sporting events and regular visitors to its top-notch recreational facilities.

Neither one is terribly close to Manheim itself, but then again, that may not matter, said Doreen Ober, Main Street manager for the Manheim Downtown Development Group. A large sporting facility such as Spooky Nook will create demand for sports apparel retail and possibly generate enough buzz that equipment manufacturers could seek to locate facilities nearby, she said.

The same can be said for spinoff from Rock Lititz, Stivers said. There's opportunity for companies suppling Clair, Tait and Atomic to locate facilities there. That reduces transportation costs and lessens the time it takes to meet customer demands.

"In the end, we're hoping for more industrial development in addition to the commercial," Stivers said.

More traffic increases the demand for all the businesses that feed — literally and figuratively — the people coming to the area, Ober said.

If that's going to happen, then business groups and governments need to encourage development in the area, Stivers said. The borough is working with the Manheim Area Chamber of Commerce to increase its activity along these lines. Stivers is a member of the chamber's board.

Transportation issues are crucial in Manheim, Stivers and Showers said. Bridges on the east and west sides of town have weight restrictions, which is problematic if you want industrial development, they said. Significant repairs or replacement will have to be looked at.

Other things can be done as well. Penn Township is setting up a regional industrial development authority that can broker tax-free projects as well as low-interest loans for companies to build facilities in the region, Showers said.

"That's one of the ways that boroughs and municipalities can let companies know, 'Hey, we want you to be here, and we want to be helpful in this process,'" he said.

For Manheim, it also means planning ahead, Stivers said.

There could be buildings in the borough that eventually go vacant, he said. The borough has to think about how to repurpose properties and attract new companies. And while increased traffic is welcome and good for business, the borough has to think about how to manage it.

"We're trying to not just be a knee-jerk reaction to what we do next month," Stivers said, "but what we do in the next five years, looking long term."

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