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Refashioned bowling alley offers window on amenities geared to younger professionals

It is still seen as a bowling alley.

But Daniel Mowery believes his business could one day be akin to a Topgolf or a Dave & Buster’s — major entertainment venues that young professionals in Central Pennsylvania want close to home but often have to travel to larger cities to experience.

The 28-year-old is the third-generation owner of the Midway Bowling Center in South Middleton Township. Since buying the facility on the Holly Pike outside of Carlisle three years ago, he has been diversifying the family business to appeal to a younger audience that is looking for more experiences to spend money on in Cumberland County.

He gutted an old pro shop to add arcade games, turned the bowling alley café into a bar and restaurant to attract more non-bowlers, and ripped out bowling lanes for table games and yard games such as cornhole.

“This is like my science experiment,” Mowery said, as he prepares to remove four bowling lanes to add virtual-reality gaming terminals this summer.

Midway also could be one of the first entertainment complexes in the country to add a new high-tech bowling system called HyperBowling, where bumpers are part of the game rather than safeguards for young bowlers. A golf simulator could follow.

Mowery is betting big that immersive multimedia experiences will become the norm for entertainment venues. To win over customers, traditional businesses like his will need to embrace new technology and add more activities.

Mowery is toying with a name change to Midway 1956. The new name would highlight the broader mix of activities while paying homage to the year Midway was founded.

The Cumberland Area Economic Development Corp. (CAEDC), the county’s economic development and tourism agency, is hoping to see other attractions rise in the commonwealth’s fastest-growing county.

With an eye on future workforce attraction and retention, CAEDC held an event on building smart communities last week in Hampden Township. The private event, which included local chamber of commerce leaders and college recruiters, business owners and employees from large employers like global accounting firm Deloitte, focused on what Cumberland County could add to bring and keep more young people in the area.

“We know we’re growing and people are coming here,” said Laura Potthoff, CAEDC’s business and workforce development manager. “How can we take advantage of that?”

Mowery was one of several business owners invited to the group discussion, which centered largely on the lack of indoor and outdoor recreation facilities, music and gaming venues, unique and high-end restaurants, meeting and conference venues, and affordable rental housing options that are attractive to young professionals.

The conversation (which was moderated by CPBJ staff reporter Jason Scott) also addressed needs for better commuter transportation options and more walkable communities, as well as doing more to market existing attractions and events to a millennial audience.

CAEDC said the goal of the event was to identify potential short- and long-term projects for development partners that could help make the area more attractive to future residents.

The Harrisburg Regional Chamber and Capital Region Economic Development Corp. launched a similar initiative three years ago, hoping to promote the region’s upsides to people thinking of living and working here. Another motive for economic development agencies is to pique the interest of business owners who are looking for new places to expand or for new business ideas.

The marketing needed to attract and retain workers is a lot like the marketing to lure leisure travelers, said Lisa Riggs, president of the Economic Development Co. of Lancaster County.

“The key thing is if you create a community where existing residents want to stay, it’s a lot easier to attract outsiders to come in,” she said.

Lancaster County has garnered more national travel accolades in recent years, including a Forbes designation this year as a Top 10 Coolest Place to Visit. As a result, Riggs said, it has gotten easier for companies to sell outsiders on moving to Lancaster for work.

Younger workers care about the job opportunity, but they are even more interested in the quality of life, she said. And Lancaster County is getting smarter about telling its story, which blends arts and culture, restaurants and nightlife options in Lancaster, charming small downtowns in places like Lititz, and rural recreational opportunities in the suburbs.

Mowery said he sees CAEDC’s effort producing similar results in Cumberland County.

“They are connecting the dots and moving the community,” he said.

Starting discussion

Central Pennsylvania is known for having a broad range of industries and a lower cost of living compared to big cities. It also has easy access to major cities along the East Coast and strong school districts.

But those factors aren’t always enough to keep young professionals.

CAEDC is hoping its recent discussion will spark further discussion about ideas to enhance quality of life and potential partnerships to bring them to life. CAEDC also would like to help fund new attractions like multi-sport complexes and redevelopment projects that tie in fledgling industries, such as esports, in which people play video games competitively.

“If developers or local investors are hearing the wants and needs of the region, I think that will encourage some local development,” said Jamie Keener, senior sales executive for Swatara Township-based Herbert Rowland & Grubic Inc. Keener attended the CAEDC event.

Some Deloitte employees at the CAEDC event expressed interest in having more housing options near the office off Route 114 and the Carlisle Pike, as well as seeing it be friendlier to pedestrians.

Other large employers also could decide to locate near Deloitte because of its proximity to Interstate 81. If new businesses do follow the firm, it could drive opportunities for new restaurant, retail and entertainment options catering to workers.

“There is a benefit of being proactive and trying to identify the needs of employees,” Keener said.

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