York-area business leaders discuss economic growth, challenges
About 60 local business leaders converged on York College this morning for a panel discussion on entrepreneurship and how it can help to transform the York area.
Some of the recurring themes raised by the panelists included making the city more livable, encouraging young people to remain in the area and promoting the community to outside businesses and workers.
Moderator Jeffrey Woodall, chairman of the college's Graham School of Business, also asked the panelists about the challenges that keep them awake at night and what they would do for York if they could "wave a magic wand."
Rob Kinsley, president of York architectural and engineering firm LSC Design Inc., said that while the cost of doing business in the city may have kept some companies from moving there in the past, more companies are now beginning to realize that the cost is "far outweighed by the benefits." He added that the amenities of living in York, including a renewed sense of "place" and "the perception that everything you need is nearby" will continue to drive economic development.
"My sense of York is that it's an incredible place to live and run a business, but we have to tell that story," Kinsley said.
He said he's encouraged by the number of "smart people" moving into the community, noting that when LSC recruits potential employees, it has a better "capture rate" when it gets them to visit York and see it for themselves. "As a city we have to recruit talent and then provide a good environment for employees once they're here," he said.
"Most cities say they want to get more young professionals or empty nesters, but York is also a great place to raise a family," Kinsley said. "There's a change happening where people are getting to know York. We have a future as an incredible small city. And that's ultimately what our story is about."
Dale Carey, founder of North Carolina-based wireless communications company Eco-Site and a member of the advisory board for York College's J.D. Brown Center for Entrepreneurship, said cities that build their broadband infrastructure and promote connectivity are seeing tremendous business growth.
"I've seen a change in the last 10 or 15 years where people are realizing that you don't have to be in a large building to run a business," Carey said. "More pockets in individual cities are growing because it's easier to set up shop and sell your product online, especially for smaller companies."
Noting that "reinvention is a catalyst for growth," Jane Conover, president and CEO of the nonprofit York County Community Foundation, said promoting the city to people outside York County and "telling the good stories" will go a long way toward attracting business.
She said local entrepreneurs, especially operators of small downtown business, have told her that they see a lot of opportunity in York and are pleased with the level of local support they receive to get off the ground.
She said vibrant downtowns are valuable to cities because they "promote an experience."
"You're not just picking something up from the store, you're seeing unique products and art and going out to eat," Conover said.
She said, however, that while York is seeing more economic growth, it still needs to address the "social impact of development," including "economic benefits for all classes."
"The city core is growing and terrific things are happening, but at some point we need to address our education system and our downtown to make sure all boats are lifted during this process."
Mark Zeleznock, co-founder of Dataforma, a provider of software for the roofing industry and a client of the business incubator at the J.D. Brown Center, said he wishes an Internet company would "blow the doors off" York so it could say, "Look at what we've done in this town" and attract more business.
"We have a great, cooperative community here, with people who have a good work ethic," Zeleznock said. "We have a great location and a beautiful countryside, and I wish we could teleport people into York so they could see the opportunities we have for development."
Dominic DelliCarpini, dean of York College's Center for Community Engagement, said he hoped that today's panel discussion — part of the school's Henry D. Schmidt Lecture Series in Entrepreneurship and Innovation — is the beginning of a conversation about economic growth in York.