2016, as we knew it would be, has been a year focused on rebuilding our industrial property inventory in Berks County. We have a number of land developments in the queue and need to get them to the point where we are ready for the shovel in the ground. Because as we know in the world of development – dirt is not a site.
With that said, we are projecting the potential for over 650 acres and almost 9.2 million square feet of new industrial building development in Berks County within the next 1 – 3 years.
To fill that space, our community has a pro-active strategy for business attraction and a strategy for business retention – we know that a majority of our economic growth will come from our existing companies – so our strategy and resources need to reflect that.
The Economic Partnership is making proactive efforts to reach out to municipalities that want to see economic growth and projects in their local communities. It is important to talk to municipal officials before we are in front of them asking them to expedite their review of a project.
One of the challenges? Berks County has 70,000 acres of preserved farm land. It is a way of life and an important choice to preserve our community’s commitment to agriculture – unless you want to aggregate several thousand or even several hundreds of acres for industrial development.
So, we are working cooperatively with the Berks County Planning Commission, the Berks County Industrial Development Authority and community leaders to identify those sites that might be the most appropriate for industrial growth in a number of locations across Berks County. It’s important to provide various locations, because existing companies don’t really want to move an hour away from their current location if they have a solid workforce.
As part of our retention strategy, we have a formal business visitation program and we try to target those businesses that we think we can positively impact and particularly seek out small and medium sized manufacturers.
- So far in 2016, we have conducted 48 visits with Berks companies
- These 48 companies employ over 6,400+ people
- 17 of those plan an expansion within the next 12 to 18 months
- Top challenges identified in addition to space is workforce, workforce, workforce, specifically
- Entry level, unskilled employees
- Maintenance Techs
- CNC Operators
And here is what we are we seeing on the attraction side:
- 50% of leads are in Advanced Manufacturing
- 16% are in Logistics/Distribution
- 21% are in Food and Beverage Manufacturing
And interestingly, in 2016 the majority of prospects that the Economic Partnership has taken on site tours of Berks County have been generated through foreign direct investment inquiries. We haven’t been surprised by this based on our strategic east coast location and access to mid-Atlantic markets.
As much as we have seen a year of rebuilding in Berks County in 2016, we eagerly anticipate a solid year of growth and positive economic development activity in 2017.