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Elizabethtown wants Nordstrom to spark more economic activity

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Nordstrom Inc. picked Elizabethtown, and the community is working hard to encourage other companies to follow suit.

“Having the space isn't enough,” says Ramon Escudero, executive director of Elizabethtown Area Chamber of Commerce. Landing a Nordstrom e-commerce fulfillment center took a 10-year Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance designation; after getting that approved, the chamber pushed for three LERTAs downtown. Located at 28 S., 206 S. and 18 N. Market St., they were finalized in August.

Those properties — known as the old Elizabethtown Hotel, Roth's Furniture and Moose Theater buildings — may not draw tenants with anything like the hundreds of jobs Nordstrom is creating. But school district, municipality and county officials have signed on in hopes that an initial tax break on improvements will serve as the catalyst to bring vibrant enterprises to the landmarks.

Dolores Reidenbach is founder of Shoppes on Market, a branch of Jewel David Ministries Inc. that is in the midst of a three-year lease on the old Roth's Furniture building.

“I think it's awesome,” Reidenbach says, while noting that she doesn't expect the LERTA to have any immediate impact on the Shoppes. Described as a “mall without walls” as well as a sort of business incubator, the Shoppes has spaces owned by individual entrepreneurs and, as the holidays approach, it's getting really busy, she says.

That said, she continues, “We're looking forward to people remembering our shops even beyond the holiday time. We always need more support. We always need more shoppers.”

Blind dates

Getting a company like Nordstrom to town isn't easy. Escudero says about 14 months of work preceded January's announcement that the center would be located here, and during much of that time Elizabethtown officials didn't know which company was considering them.

“We never know who it is,” Escudero says of prospects whose interest the Economic Development Co. of Lancaster County encourages in concert with local officials. Right now, he says, Elizabethtown is working on a couple of prospects but hasn't secured anything yet. So he's going to keep touting attractions like the fact that Elizabethtown has an Amtrak station and, in Elizabethtown College, students who will likely be interested in part-time or seasonal jobs.

Escudero is well suited as the community's promoter, according to Tom Baldrige. He's president and CEO of the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce & Industry, where Escudero was Keystone Innovation Zone program coordinator before moving to the Elizabethtown chamber in 2011.

“He just has a unique passion for community development, and this has provided him a tremendous outlet to demonstrate that,” says Baldrige, “He's got a rare mix of patience, creativity, enthusiasm and a passion for people that I think comes together really well in the things he's bringing to Elizabethtown.”

Lengthy process

Even after a company commits to the area, the road to opening day can be long. Nordstrom, for example, is estimating a summer 2015 starting date. Dan Evans, the company's business public relations director, says a few positions have been posted already and more will be coming in the spring, when Nordstrom expects to begin training hourly employees as well.

“We will hire approximately 250 employees at the outset and anticipate hiring approximately 800 employees by the end of 2015,” he says. “E-commerce is the fastest growing area of our business, and the new fulfillment center will be a big part of its future growth.”

Nordstrom has already started talking to the chamber about how they can work together through that process.

“We think it's important to get to know the community where we do business,” Evans says. Also, it's a pretty big job.

“They expect an average of 10 people applying per position,” Escudero says.

Unifying the community

In addition to talking up Elizabethtown, Escudero is touting E-town Get Fit. A first-of-its-kind program for the chamber, it is organized in cooperation with Mark Mueller of Mueller Personal Training, and its goal is to bring the community together to get healthy. Its first scheduled event is Choose to Lose, a team weight- and fat-loss contest that will run Jan. 17 to April 18, with group exercise classes, nutritional tips and an awards ceremony.

“I had never dealt with the chamber before,” says Mueller, but when he presented the idea, “the chamber grabbed onto it.”

Sponsorship and interest in E-town Get Fit are shaping up nicely, Escudero says: “A healthy community is going to grow healthy businesses.” 

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