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Cooperation fueling growth in Lebanon CountyEconomic development agencies working together

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Like other counties in Central Pennsylvania, Lebanon County is a “sweet spot” for the transportation and distribution industry.

But warehouse projects aren’t happening on their own. Recent growth in Lebanon stems from a renewed sense of cooperation among the county’s economic development agencies, according to Susan Eberly, president and CEO of the Lebanon Valley Economic Development Corp., or LVEDC.

“It’s a different mindset that everyone really is embracing,” she said.

The county is seeing a boom in warehouse building thanks to its highway infrastructure and proximity to bigger cities. The county’s government agencies also have been willing to designate some projects for Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance, a program giving businesses temporary tax breaks on property improvements.

Warehouses continue to pop up, especially in the area near the split of interstates 78 and 81 in Union Township. Many are still seeking tenants.

Atlanta-based Ridgeline Property Group — which also developed the Susquehanna Logistics Center in York County — is building a nearly 400,000-square-foot warehouse in Union Township near Fort Indiantown Gap. The logistics center is near about 300 acres of existing warehouses and logistics centers. Tenants in the existing business parks include Ingram Micro and PPC Lubricants.

“When you put it all together, I think these are the signs that things are happening in the county and will continue to keep happening.”

- Greg Buckler, president and CEO, Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce

On the east side of Interstate 81, two buildings with a combined 1.5 million square feet of space will be going up in the Gateway Logistics Park developed by Clarion Brothers. Another 400,000 square feet is already available nearby at the LogistiCenter at 78-81, which is being developed by Dermody Properties.

Gene Preston of Dermody said the building doesn’t have a tenant yet, but noted there are “active prospects.”
D. Reid Townsend, a principal at MRP Industrial, said tenants also are being sought for a 500,000-square-foot warehouse at Gateway Logistics Park. MRP is a member of the team marketing the site.

The other piece of Gateway Logistics Park is a 1 million-square-foot build-to-suit warehouse that is in need of a tenant, Townsend said.

The largest of the new warehouse spaces in that area, the Lebanon Valley Distribution Center on Route 22 in Bethel Township, is going through “active negotiations with a handful of parties” interested in  occupying the nearly 900,000-square-foot building, according to W. Jason Webb, managing director at real estate company Jones Lang LaSalle in Lower Allen Township. The building could be expanded to almost 1.1 million square feet.

But one company unique to Lebanon County, poultry processing company Bell & Evans on Route 22 in Bethel Township, is the site of what county officials described as some of the area’s most exciting construction projects. The organic chicken producer has started construction on a chicken hatchery across Route 22 from its main building. It is expected to begin operating by the end of 2016.

The company also wrapped up a 158,000-square-foot, $44 million expansion of its main poultry processing plant early this year.

“What they’re doing is just incredible there,” Eberly said.

The county also recently nailed down plans for the $39 million Lebanon Valley Cold Storage and Distribution Center in North Lebanon Township. The project is expected to create more than 130 full-time jobs and open by March, according to Michael Byrd, president of the center.

With the new jobs created by these projects comes a familiar problem for manufacturing and technology companies: finding qualified workers. Robert Phillips, the chairman of the board of the Lebanon County Board of Commissioners, said it is a challenge to ensure county residents are qualified for available jobs.

Greg Buckler, president and CEO, Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce
Greg Buckler, president and CEO, Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce

“There are businesses clamoring for qualified help, and we need to match that demand with a supply coming out of our schools,” he said. “In Lebanon County, we’re constantly working to get our education matched up with the opportunities here.”

Eberly said the county also is still working on its marketing. In the past, different agencies worked separately to brand themselves and the county. Now, given the spirit of cooperation permeating Lebanon, organizations like the LVEDC, county government, the Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Lebanon Valley Destination Marketing Organization are working together to build a consistent brand, she said.

Recent developments, meanwhile, especially the expansion at Bell & Evans and growth of the county’s health care sector, are good indicators for the future.

“When you put it all together, I think these are the signs that things are happening in the county and will continue to keep happening,” said Greg Buckler, president and CEO of the Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce.

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