York nonprofit to offer $15,000 in grant funding to York community events 

York-based economic development agency Downtown Inc. will be offering $15,000 in grant funding to community-wide activities such as festivals and live arts. 

Downtown Inc. announced this week that it will soon be taking applications for its third annual round of Welcoming Community Grants. 

The program, which is open to any individual organizations putting on large-scale community event in York City, will award individual grant amounts of up to $2,000 with a total of $15,000 available for the 2022 round. 

Welcoming Community Grants is administered by Downtown Inc. and backed with financial support from Better York, Powder Mill Foundation, the York County Community Foundation and in partnership with the Cultural Alliance of York County. 

“The goal of the Welcoming Community Grants grant program is to identify and provide financial support to sustainable community events that contribute to creating a welcoming and connected community for all in York City – through diversity, accessibility and cultural representation,” said Eric Menzer, Better York chair.  

The program’s letter of interest portal opens on Friday with a deadline of March 18th. Selected applicants will be invited to apply in early April. 

York restaurant receives economic development liquor license 

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board has approved an economic development liquor license for Hamir’s Indian Fusion in downtown York. 

The licenses are an economic development tool to support small business growth and community revitalization. Hamir’s Indian Fusion began its application more than two years ago, assisted by the York County Economic Alliance, Downtown Inc. and Better York. 

Based upon York County’s population, two economic development liquor licenses may be issued per year in the county. 

“These liquor licenses are designed for small businesses to be able to serve and generate revenue and attract more business,” Kevin Schreiber, president and CEO of York County Economic Alliance, said in a release. In October, the Liquor Control Board granted an economic development liquor license to Willow Valley Communities for Southern Market Food Hall in downtown Lancaster. 

Schreiber added that the applicant pays a one-time fee of approximately $50,000 for a nontransferable license, versus acquiring a license on the open market, a much more competitive and costly process. 

Hamir’s Indian Fusion debuted in the Taste Test pop series in downtown York before opening a full restaurant in 2018. 

“Having this liquor license is a game changer,” Hamir Patel, owner and chef of Hamir’s Fusion, said. “… Now we can fully participate in the events of downtown York, the community we are blessed to be a part of.” 

York County Economic Alliance launches new small business hub

At a press conference Monday, the York County Economic Alliance announced the launch of the Bloom Business Empowerment Center, a hub of technical support, capital and resources designed to accelerate startup, growth and success for York County small businesses.

Bloom aims to grow small businesses through grants, loans and a variety of other resources. The center is a direct byproduct of the York County Economic Action Plan and was developed by the York County Economic Alliance.

“It is the expressed goal of Bloom to serve all of York County, with a strategic focus within our historic boroughs and city, and with a goal of supporting BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) and women-owned businesses,” a release said.

The economic alliance has raised over $1.7 million in capital to support the center, including funding from the Powder Mill Foundation, the J. William Warehime Foundation, the York County Community Foundation’s Racial Equity Fund and the alliance’s board of directors.

Sully Pinos, who has been with the York County Economic Alliance for five years, was named the center’s executive director. She was most recently focused on distributing $30 million in COVID-19 relief funding to 1,900 small businesses and nonprofits, with 38% reaching women-owned businesses, 34% reaching businesses owned by individuals of color, and 7% owned by veterans.

“Sully embodies servant leadership,” Kevin Schreiber, president and CEO of the alliance, said in the release. “She is an empathetic leader who has committed much of herself to helping others.”

York County economic report reveals a mixed bag 

The latest data report from the York County Economic Alliance reveals a “mix of good news, silver linings and remaining obstacles,” said its CEO and president, Kevin Schreiber. 

While unemployment is falling in the county as the recovery continues, the labor pool is down and consumer confidence has weakened. 

In partnership with the Economic Development Company of Lancaster County and its Center for Regional Analysis, the alliance releases data reports every other month. 

Schreiber said the decline in consumer confidence is the biggest change from the previous report. That’s “no surprise to anyone,” he said, given concerns about inflation, the worsening pandemic and other issues. 

York County entrepreneurs, however, are more optimistic. 

Surveys last month showed this disparity. “Business attitudes remain positive, as they anticipate solid demand, but they are also fatigued from being stretched too thin in navigating operational and economic challenges with no foreseeable end,” the report said. “In contrast, consumer sentiment remains dim as households report weakening financial conditions and waning optimism about the health of the local and national economies over the next 12 months.” 

York County’s economy shrank 3.8% in 2020. Total gross domestic product was $21.46 billion, down almost $856 million from 2019. “In real terms, the GDP loss walked back nearly five years of York County’s economic growth,” the report noted. 

There are no York County GDP numbers yet for 2021, but the economy there is rebounding along with the nation. 

Still, “COVID-driven headwinds fueled by rising cases and the emergence of variants are interjecting uncertainty around 2022 economic growth,” the report said. Labor shortages are expected to continue, and the ongoing pandemic will delay supply chain normalization. 

In York County, consumer spending  remained positive, according to the report, though it softened in the fall. 

The unemployment rate in the county fell to 4.1% in October, with 9,460 unemployed and 221,760 employed persons. That rate is approaching pre-pandemic levels, Schreiber said. The unintended consequence of that, he said, is difficulty in hiring. 

As of November, the York County labor pool was down nearly 7,400 people compared to 2019. “For some businesses, this meant difficulties expanding their workforce to meet demand that exceeded 2019 levels,” the report said. “For others, the labor shortage meant stunted progress towards pre-pandemic levels.” 

Manufacturing is among the few sectors exhibiting signs of recovery. Its workforce has exceeded 2019 levels for five straight months, but “many manufacturers still have significant unmet labor needs as they try to meet customer demand,” the report said. 

Based on 2020, GDP, retail trade had among the smallest losses. “Employment data shows its workforce expanded in the first half of this year in the face of strong consumer demand,” the report said. “However, some of the gains in workforce have been walked back in the fall months.” 

In contrast, leisure and hospitality were two of the hardest hit sectors since the pandemic started, losing nearly a quarter of their GDP and a fifth of their workforce in 2020, according to the report. A recovery started this summer, but employment was still 12.5% below 2019 levels. 

A result of this workforce contraction is rising wages, though the increase lags behind inflation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, average hourly earnings in York County for the first 11 months of 2021 were nearly $26.30, around 3% higher than the year preceding the pandemic. The state average was up 8% for the same period ($28.25). 

 “We need a baby boom that will solve this (labor shortage) in 20 years,” Schreiber joked. 

On a more serious note, barriers to employment, such as lack of child care, must be reduced to get more people into the workforce, he said. Employers also need to be creative in attracting applicants in this hyper-competitive environment, whether its bonuses or some other incentives. 

The labor shortage was a challenge before the pandemic, Schreiber said, and now the problem is exponentially greater. People are leaving their jobs to stay home or retire. “It’s been a stressful two years,” he said.  

Many employees who are close to retirement age are deciding to quit, Schreiber said. “I can’t fault someone for choosing to exit the workforce,” he said. Others are re-evaluating their employment situation and reprioritizing “what’s important in life.” 

Lancaster developer breaks ground on new Columbia apartments 

Lancaster real estate developer Eberly Myers’ incoming four-story, 33-unit apartment building in downtown Columbia. PHOTO/PROVIDED

Lancaster real estate developer Eberly Myers’ incoming four-story, 33-unit apartment building in downtown Columbia marks the first residential housing project of its kind in the borough in years. 

Eberly Myers recently broke ground on its new building at 134 Locust St. after nearly four years of setbacks including the pandemic and banks refusing to finance the project. 

“The biggest hurdle was the financing and getting the market data from a lending standpoint to say that this projects revenue can support the cost,” said Benjamin Myers, one of three partners at Eberly Myers. “There hasn’t been a new multifamily, new residential housing project like this [in Columbia] in a long time.” 

The project sits on three parcels of land totaling 14,500 square feet. Along with the 33 single-bedroom apartments, the building will feature two small commercial spaces still open for interested tenants. 

The property is also just 500 feet from the Susquehanna River and the recently opened Northwest trail. 

Eberly Myer estimates the project to cost approximately $6 million when finished and will be marketing the apartments to young millennials and baby boomers, who could help stimulate the borough’s economy without straining the area’s school systems, said Myers. 

Recently Columbia Borough has begun investing in projects that could help it bring in a new tax base without increasing millage on its current residents. Recent investments in the borough have included the multimillion-dollar renovation and reopening of the Columbia Market House and the recent purchase of the Columbia-based McGinness Property by the borough. 

Eberly Myer has previously focused its efforts on smaller real estate holdings in and around Lancaster City. The 134 Locust St. development is part of an effort to invest in Columbia to tackle the region’s lack of housing availability, while offering more affordable rent compared to housing in the city, said Myers.  

“We are optimistic about the future of Columbia. There are some things intrinsically valuable about Columbia like the river and its heritage,” he said. “I would expect Columbia in the next couple of years to start getting traction from an economic standpoint.” 

The building is the largest project of its kind to break ground for Eberly Myers, which is also working on a 65-unit multifamily in downtown Lancaster and a 52-unit property in North Queen, also in Lancaster. 

Construction on the Columbia building is planned to be finished by next summer. If Eberly Myers can prove that the region is a viable market for multifamily housing, the developer says that it would like to see buildings with as many as 100 to 125 units. 

“Once you get the understanding that the market can support this growth you will see more opportunity for housing to take place,” said Myers. 

Harrisburg Chamber and CREDC closes $300k loan for Duncannon brewery

The Harrisburg Regional Chamber’s economic development nonprofit closed $300,000 in financing for a Duncannon, Perry County brewery to renovate a former PNC Bank into a brewery, tasting room and restaurant.

Capital Region Economic Development Corp. (CREDC) announced this week that it will finance nearly half of the cost for Duncannon-based Lindgren Craft Brewery to renovate a 2,854-square-foot building it purchased last year.

The microbrewery began operations in 2018 and looks to expand business with the help of the new space, which is projected to cost over $676,000 when finished. It received the loan through CREDC’s Enterprise Zone Revolving Loan Fund.

“Lindgren Craft Brewery’s dedication to Perry County and to local farmers and businesses runs deep,” said Ann Leiner, CREDC’s loan review committee chair. “CREDC is proud to play a part in funding the continued growth of the brewery’s operations, production and staffing in our region.”

CREDC’s Enterprise Zone Revolving Loan Fund provides funding for real estate acquisitions, construction and renovation and machinery and equipment.

Through the loan, Lindgren will update the former bank to accommodate new brewing equipment. The project is planned to be finished by mid-fall.

“In our search for financing, a number of people in banking and the financing industry highly recommended we contact CREDC,” said Cliff Lindgren, Chairman of Lindgren Craft Brewery. “Through CREDC, we were able to get the funding we needed, with terms we could live with, in a timely manner to purchase the brewing equipment that allowed us to expand our business. That’s what I call real economic development.”

The project is expected to create six new jobs over the next three years.