Slow change in southern Lancaster CountyRegion balances growth, rural flavor
Don't expect any large multinational corporations to pop up any time soon among the rolling hills and sprawling farmland that is southern Lancaster County, Kurt Wagner said.
But that doesn’t mean the area doesn’t offer a healthy climate for business, said Wagner, a small-business owner who serves as president of the Southern Lancaster County Chamber of Commerce.
You just have to look around a little bit for the businesses, he said.
“We always have new small businesses opening up, and that seems to be the bread and butter of our chamber, these smaller businesses,” said Wagner, who runs KC & Company, a Willow Street business that provides IT solutions, mostly for smaller companies.
For various reasons — including local township zoning that limits rapid business or residential growth, the lack of a major highway like Interstate 83 or 81, plus a strong sentiment among many residents to maintain the current way of life — what residents call “the Southern End" of Lancaster County isn’t considered to be on the verge of a business and residential boom, local and regional business leaders said.
Wagner’s chamber includes about 200 businesses, a number that has been growing steadily over the last decade, he said, adding that the overall number of businesses in the region also has been on the increase.
There are larger businesses in the region, like Stoner Inc. — an international maker of products for the home and the automotive, industrial-cleaning and molding industries — and a large Ferguson & Hassler supermarket on the edge of Quarryville.
But many of the area’s businesses, like those run by Wagner and his fellow chamber of commerce officers, are on the smaller side.
“It’s more what I would call a steady, consistent growth,” Wagner said. “You don’t see a lot of drastic changes happening fairly quickly, and you don’t see a lot of fads” among the businesses that do move in, he said.
Wagner is a Lancaster County native who moved to the county’s southern end 20-plus years ago, and “the reason we have chosen to stay here and do business here is that we enjoy the flavor of southern Lancaster County. It isn’t just the geography, either … it’s the sense of volunteerism, it’s the neighbor helping neighbor, the core values that we share down here.”
The southern Lancaster County region is considered by many to stretch north-south from Willow Street, just south of Lancaster, to the Maryland line, and east-west from the Susquehanna River to the Chester County line. Others consider the region as the area that comprises the Solanco School District, which includes Quarryville and eight local, mostly rural townships.
Wagner said his chamber takes in a slightly larger area, including businesses in nearby school districts like Penn Manor and Lampeter-Strasburg.
The population of the Solanco district, according to Lancaster County 2015 figures, is around 33,000.
“The southern end of Lancaster County is undeniably less-well-positioned for robust economic development, but extremely well-positioned for offering assets … open space and other amenities that might enhance the tourism economy,” said Tom Baldrige, president and CEO of the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce & Industry.
And while there are economic opportunities in southern Lancaster County, he added, “I don’t think anybody would be in favor of unbridled economic development that would spoil the uniqueness of the southern end’s current economy.”
A top Lancaster County planning official said the most noticeable business growth he sees is an increase in the size of farm businesses, many of them owned by Plain residents.
But overall, the region’s communities don’t have the zoning and water and sewer in place that would support large-scale development, said Dean Severson, director of community planning for the Lancaster County Planning Commission.
“There may be a few smaller plans, but no 150-acre developments,” said Severson, who’s also the community planner providing planning assistance for 15 municipalities, mostly in the Solanco region.
Quiet, steady growth
One of the owners at Ferguson & Hassler Supermarket, a third-generation grocery store founded in 1916, said most business people and residents in the region prefer a quiet, steady pace of economic growth.
“As a business person, you want to see growth, and the growth of our business over the years has probably paralleled the growth of our area,” said Tim Hassler, one of three family members (along with his brother Jim and a cousin, George Hassler III, or “Chip”) who today own the store most call “Fergie’s.”
“But even with the growth, you don’t want to see it ruined, and you don’t want to grow so much and so fast that you become something you’re not,” said Tim Hassler, whose first job at the store, when he was in school 40 years ago, was bagging groceries.
Ferguson & Hassler has moved twice in the Quarryville area, and today it operates a 55,000-square-foot store in TownsEdge Shopping Village. It has roughly 200 employees, 50 of them full-time.
TownsEdge has become the “new center of town,” hosting the region’s yearly pre-holiday tree-lighting event, noted another chamber board member, Neil Uniacke.
Uniacke, who runs a faith-based counseling ministry called New Hope Community Life Ministry, sees hope for the future of the Quarryville-area business community, thanks to the number of young people he sees returning to the area after leaving for college and gaining some work experience elsewhere.
Many come back because they find the area’s spiritual environment and the improvements they see in the Solanco district making the region more conducive to raising their children, Uniacke continued.
“The commute into Lancaster and other more populated areas is more acceptable to many of our newer residents,” slowly converting the area from having a purely rural population into being an “outlying exurbia bedroom community,” he added. “So I think there’s a real future.”