The Business Journal hosted an executive roundtable discussion July 18 with midstate leaders to talk about making place in Central Pennsylvania.
The conversation focused on a multitude of construction and economic development topics that are critical to regional business growth and long-term momentum for the midstate.
Our seven participants — who are planners, developers, construction managers and project facilitators — were asked about sustainable development and what it means to the projects they undertake across the region.
They weighed in on the growing importance of fostering public-private partnerships across all levels of government, as well as site selection, redevelopment and reinvestment in properties along major corridors, mixed-use projects and zoning trends, recruiting students from local institutions of higher education, and attracting companies from emerging industry sectors.
The panelists were also asked about projects they get the most satisfaction from doing and the biggest drivers of regional growth. More importantly, they were asked what they believe will be the midstate's greatest competitive advantage over the next five decades.
Here are some highlights from the conversation:
“We have found PennDOT to have become more and more agreeable and easier to work with over the last five years. From a developer standpoint, it is very gratifying to have that. It has to do with the whole process. They have streamlined the process. They've made it more economical for us to go through the process. The timeline has shrunk.”
“I still get satisfaction out of making something old into something new. It's taking a site that's in the middle of a community and improving it. Instead of being a dark site where nobody is attending it, now you have a vibrant site where many people can go for toys or to have dinner.”
“We like challenging projects, but we like the project where we really help the client. He's your better friend when you're finished with the project. Also, the adaptive reuse projects that we do are really challenging.”
“People want to live closer to their work. They don't want to drive, they don't want traffic jams.”
“I think the big thing we need to work on, especially in our mid-sized cities, is the crime. I think if we can get that and get our cities to be safer, you will see a transformation. People will move into the cities. You'll tear down what can't be rebuilt, you'll rebuild what can be. We need to have the kind of zoning that you can put an office building at the end of the block, that you can put a grocery store every two blocks — those kind of things you used to see in the towns 50 or 100 years ago.”
president/COO, High Real Estate Group LLC
“In order to create a sense of place and undertake a large development project, you're really going to need to see more public-private partnerships. These projects take too much time, they take too much cash upfront in order to go through the approval process. The only way for them to really work and create that sense of place, and be a catalyst for the community, is for the public sector and private sector to work together collaboratively to see if you can figure out a win-win solution.”
“The market should determine what uses go where. So let's work together and develop a framework that would say, 'We only want so much industrial, only want so much office, only want so much multifamily.' But then let the market determine where those properties want to be developed.”
principal, Quandel Construction Group Inc.
“We're seeing mergers and acquisitions among the different health care providers. I think they're making decisions very cautiously because it seems like every month something changes with health care.”
“One thing that I think will continue to be our increasing economic advantage is regional cooperation. Forty years ago, it was basically nonexistent.”
owner/president, JEM Group LLC
“I think that we can be most beneficial to a project or to an owner when we're there from the beginning. When you can be there at the table, understand the goal, where you want to go and really help the client get across the finish line with a high-quality building, those are the kind of projects we're looking for.”
“Harrisburg Young Professionals, they poll their members every year. I was president in 2006 and we had 300 members. Today they have 1,500 members. The survey said that of those 1,500 members, 47 percent of them are not from Central Pennsylvania. They want to work in Harrisburg. The other thing the survey said was over 50 percent of those young professionals live in the city. They want to be in that environment. They want to be where those amenities are. They like the walkability. I think we still have a brain drain issue, but I think it is improving.”
executive director, Tri-County Regional Planning Commission
“When push comes to shove, it comes down to the municipality and what they want. The local process drives that. What I'd like to see is more multi-municipal ordinances be developed. It generally starts with a multi-municipal comprehensive plan. From there, work with municipalities to develop an ordinance structure that we can put five or six municipalities together.”
“I still think transportation is going to be our biggest asset. We have a transportation system that has kind of carried us through the last 50 years. Ten percent of the nation's gross national product comes through Harrisburg on our interstates. Regional rail aside, we still need to have a holistic transportation program. We have to start moving people and goods as opposed to cars. I think our transportation system needs to grow into that community-centered development that we'd like to see.”
director, Governor's Action Team
“I think there is definitely a role for public-private partnerships in business development and in economic development. And if for no other reason, it's a function of resources. It's no secret that governments, particularly state governments, are facing fiscal challenges. Transportation infrastructure has suffered from deferred maintenance. I'm not speaking Pennsylvania specific, I'm speaking nationally. The U.S. Congress is struggling right now to try and figure out a way to drum up transportation money again. We went through that experience here in Pennsylvania just in the past year and were successful in raising, through legislation, over $7 billion in the next 10 years to make some very sorely needed transportation improvements.”
“Those monies are flowing, but one of the ways they are going to take advantage and leverage those dollars as best they can is to enter into public-private partnerships in the transportation realm and have private companies construct roadways. That's an area it's very prominent and other states have followed that model.”