Lebanon: Diverse industries power economy

Ron Kemp, founder and president of DRT Transportation LLC. Behind Kemp is the dispatch department of the Lebanon County-based logistics provider, has been adding staff thanks to the region's expanding role in warehousing.-(Amy Spangler)

Lebanon County’s economy is experiencing growth in a variety of segments, but among the most active lately is warehousing in the vicinity of Interstates 78 and 81.

“We’re centrally located, so there’s great access to a lot of East Coast markets — Route 78 is a great east-west route, and Route 81 is a north-south route,” said Karen Groh, president of the Lebanon Valley Chamber.

Outside companies are taking notes.

Ace Hardware Corp. plans to move into an 870,000-square-foot warehouse along Route 22 in Bethel Township, near where the two highways intersect. Before it moves in, the hardware retailer is adding nearly 206,000 square feet to the structure, bringing it to more than 1 million square feet of space, said Susan Eberly, president and CEO of the Lebanon Valley Economic Development Corp.

Toy company Mattel, meanwhile, opened a nearly 1 million-square-foot distribution center in the Gateway Logistics Park in Jonestown. According to a press release announcing the opening of the facility, the manufacturer is partnering with Ryder to operate and staff the facility.

Between them, the two projects will create nearly 600 jobs.

Eberly also pointed to two other large commercial projects by two locally owned businesses: Sechler Family Foods Inc., known as Bell & Evans, and Lebanon Valley Cold Storage and Distribution Center. Based in Fredericksburg, Bell & Evans’ $40 million 160,000-square-foot hatchery is described by the company as the “first organic, humane, animal-welfare-focused chicken hatchery in the world”. It’s designed to hold 1.5 million chicks, and the company plans to employ 27 people for its operation. The hatchery replaces a Bell & Evans facility in Mifflintown. Eberly said the hatchery follows a $44 million 160,000-square-foot expansion of the company’s processing plant.

Top private companies in Lebanon County
Ranked by total revenue

  1. Sechler Family Foods Inc. DBA Bell & Evans
  2. PPC Lubricants Inc.
  3. APR Supply Co.
  4. DRT Transportation LLC
  5. PRL Inc.
  6. Candoris Technologies LLC
  7. Lebanon Farms Disposal Inc.
  8. Shannon A. Smith Inc.
  9. Light-Heigel & Associates Inc.
  10. Steckbeck Engineering and Surveying Inc.

Located in the Lebanon Rails Business Park in North Lebanon Township, Lebanon Valley Cold Storage and Distribution is a $35 million two-phase project totaling nearly 300,000-square-feet. It’s expected to add 131 jobs over a three-year period. Phase one includes 100,000 square feet of cold storage space and about 20,000 square feet of manufacturing space. Eberly said the frozen bakery products storage and manufacturing company’s facility recently welcomed its first truckload.

Aiding many of the projects is a tax incentive known as a LERTA, or Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance, Eberly said. The incentive gives businesses temporary tax breaks on property improvements.

In addition to providing jobs, the new distribution facilities fuel growth in the logistics industry. Robert Kemp, president of North Cornwall Township-based DRT Transportation, said that the company’s business has doubled since year-end 2014, and has grown 21 percent in the first six months of 2017 compared to the first six months of 2016. Kemp said he expects company revenue to exceed $60 million this year, up from $24.9 million in 2013.

DRT’s Lebanon County clients are mostly small and midsized companies. Kemp pointed out that regionally the company has seen growth from large companies like Andersen Windows, which has a distribution facility in Carlisle. Andersen named DRT Partner of the Year the past two years. Other clients, like Crown Cork and Seal in Philadelphia and ACPI in Thompsontown, have also contributed to DRT’s growth. Kemp said DRTs service and ability to find niche solutions has been part of its growth.

To meet the growing demand, the company’s staff has more than doubled since 2014. Headcount at the company’s corporate office has swelled from 21 employees to 48 employees, and Kemp indicated that DRT anticipates hiring 10 more in the next year. Additionally over 50 trailers were purchased in 2016 to meet the increased demand for services.

Project pipeline

Warehouses are not making the only buzz in Lebanon County. Groh said there are two large mixed use developments: One, Springwood Development’s North Cornwall Commons, has broken ground for its initial phase; the other, The Preserve at Historic Cornwall Village, recently received approval from Cornwall Borough for phase one.

Steckbeck Engineering and Surveying is working with the developers of both projects. Jeff Steckbeck, president and CEO, said that North Cornwall Commons will feature a mix of commercial, retail and residential uses. The 81-acre tract across from the Lebanon Expo Center on Rocherty Road will be developed in five phases. The first phase, which is underway, will include a hotel, two restaurants, three retail pad sites and 160 rental townhomes. Phases one and two are bounded on the east by the Lebanon Valley Rail Trail. He also said there’s been some movement with The Preserve at Historic Cornwall Village, a proposed 468-acre development located between Miner’s Village and Burd Coleman Village in Cornwall Borough that’s been in the works since 2009. Developer H&K Group has proposed to develop the tract in five phases with phases three and four having access to Penryn Lake. The final design plan for phase one, which contains a mix of housing types, received approval from the borough, and a highway occupancy permit for an access to Route 322 has been approved by PennDOT. Steckbeck said the permit requires $1.1 million in improvements to Route 322.

Steckbeck Engineering was also involved in the Bell & Evans projects.

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