The land will provide.
Agribusiness — food processing and manufacturing in particular — will be the focus of business attraction efforts under Cumberland County’s newly approved comprehensive plan for economic development, officials with the Cumberland Area Economic Development Corporation said.
A quick look at some numbers makes it easy to see why: Employment in agriculture, forestry, fishing and related industries rose 23 percent from 2003 to 2012, with a 16 percent growth in earnings.
Farming saw a 16 percent growth in earnings and a 23 percent growth in employment, at a time when farm employment rose by only 4 percent for the state as a whole.
Throw in good soil and a strong distribution network, and the sector seems an obvious one to back.
“Cumberland County is an ideal location for food processors and distributors. With our outstanding transportation system, we are within a 12-hour drive of half of the population of the United States,” Dave Swartz, District 15 Director of Penn State Ag Extension Office, said in a statement released by CAEDC.
The proximity of 160 million people “is why Cumberland County and neighboring counties in South Central Pennsylvania are a hotbed of economic activity for all stages of the food system,” Swartz added. “Our area excels in food production, processing, distribution and marketing.”
The existing sector already is a significant contributor to the county’s economy.
Major food processing facilities and agribusinesses with a local presence include Vantage Foods, Nestle Purina Pet Care Co., Schreiber Foods, Land O’ Lakes Inc., Bimbo Bakeries, and Lindt, CAEDC pointed out.
They’re not alone.
“A big benefit to our business is the ease of distributing our products via the extensive highway systems in the region,” President and CEO Bob Kessler said in CAEDC’s release. “Our commitment to this area also stems from the fact that 60 percent of our customers are located within a 100-mile radius of our facility in Lemoyne.”
Warrell President Kevin Silva similarly praised the “friendly local business climate, proximate access to valuable interstate roadway and rail routes, and location that reaches a large percentage of the United States population” factors that make Cumberland County “a great place to relocate your business.”
The county’s agribusiness naturally is closely linked with its farming community, whose efforts recently took top honors at the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau’s annual meeting.
Attracting new ventures
The economic plan’s overall goals are to increase the commercial and industrial tax base; to increase median income and opportunities for the broadest possible number of residents; and to maintain a diversified industrial base as the business landscape changes.
In that spirit, it identifies six industry “clusters” for attraction, retention and expansion: tourism, agribusiness, transportation and warehousing, health care and social assistance, manufacturing and professional industries.
Agribusiness has been a clear priority throughout the process.
CAEDC has outlined several steps it is taking to bring more such businesses to the area:
• Working with local technical schools, colleges and universities. Those efforts include encouraging a partnership between Cumberland Perry Area Vocational Technical School and the Penn State Ag Extension, to ramp up their horticulture program.
• Working with our local colleges and universities to develop programs and certifications that apply directly to advanced manufacturing, including food processing.
• Creating marketing and promotion materials to showcase the sector.
“Looking ahead, CAEDC will be working with municipalities to create more desirable zoning for food processing and manufacturing companies looking to move in to our area,” the agency said. “CAEDC will also be creating partnerships with food-related organizations to learn more about this industry’s needs.”