LEWISTOWN - The Mifflin County Comprehensive Advisory Committee discussed a draft to the Economic Development Plan at a Monday meeting at the Lewistown Courthouse.
Bill Gomes, the Director of Mifflin County Planning and Development Department, provided handouts including Chapter 11 of the Mifflin County Comprehensive Plan.
The economic development goal is to provide opportunities that diversify the county's economic base by building a more highly skilled workforce to attract new business and industry, and by creating new opportunities for industrial/commercial growth and development.
The economic development objectives are:
Create an Economic Development Commission to coordinate and guide the economic development efforts of Mifflin County:
Recommendations for suggested members include: Commissioners, County Planning Department, Mifflin County Industrial Development Corporation, Juniata River Valley Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Lewistown, Mifflin County School District, Tuscarora Intermediate Unit, Career Technology Center, Lewistown Hospital, A financial institution representative, local municipal representative(s), and private industry representatives e.g. GE and Standard Steel.
The Commission would be the official economic development arm of the county. Its 11 to 15 members would be appointed by resolution and serve staggered terms. It would file an annual "State of the County" report with the county commissioners and hold an annual meeting to present the report to leaders of the community, including local officials, business leaders, non-profits, and other institutions engaged in improving the economic climate in Mifflin County.
Build and maintain the county's workforce:
It is critical that the county's youth be provided with quality K-12 education that enable them to enter the workforce with core capabilities and technical skills and that provides a foundation for continued learning at post-secondary education levels.
Conduct a community audit to determine needs, resources, and gaps in the local workforce development system. This would consist of labor and employer analysis.
Identify training programs to be developed through the Tuscarora Intermediate Unit 11 and the Mifflin County School District based on gaps identified through the labor and employer analyses.
Develop special fairs and events at primary and secondary schools to educate youth on the importance of having a quality education.
Develop special programs and events geared towards the county's adults to keep them informed of education programs and opportunities for employment within the county.
Identify and prioritize sites for new industrial/commerce parks
Industrial parks are currently at full capacity with no surrounding area available for expansion.
Recommendations include: Develop and maintain a prioritized inventory of potential industrial properties to expand the county's industrial space capacity and offerings. The process would be to evaluate new sites, rank the sites in set criteria, select one for development, seek funding to develop.
Identify and prioritize underutilized properties and/or sites and identify highest and best use/redevelopment scenarios for these properties/sites
There are a number of sites and properties located throughout Mifflin County that are underutilized. These sites represent an opportunity for Mifflin County to not only strengthen its tax base, but to reinvigorate these areas with new life and energy, and to convey a positive image of the county to its residents and visitors alike.
Develop and maintain a prioritized inventory of potential properties/sites that are underutilized, vacant and in need of redevelopment.
Rank each site by set criteria. Prioritize based on ranking process. Develop a highest and best use plan for the priority sites.
Develop a redevelopment plan for each site to determine resources required. Seek assistance and identify partnerships needed to redevelop sites according to redevelopment plan.
Develop financial incentives to encourage economic development
Financing tools at one or more levels could help to attract private investment into the county. Financial incentives such as the Local Economic Revitalization Tax Abatement, Tax Increment Financing and Historic Tax Credits programs are tax-related tools being used by older communities to encourage redevelopment and to entice developers to invest in a community.
Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance districts are defined areas that provide property owners forgiveness on real property taxes that are directly attribute to a property's increased valuation brought about by new construction or other improvements.
According to state law, a LERTA district shall be established for a period not to exceed 10 years. A taxpayer who applies for an exemption any time before the LERTA district expires is entitled to the full exemption schedule authorized by local ordinance.
Tax Increment Financing districts are defined areas that capture a portion of tax revenue above a property's initial assessed valuation and utilize that increment to retire debt used to finance public or private improvements related to a new development. TIF-generated financing must be used to pay debt service on improvement associated with with TIF district.
Identify areas to be designated as LERTA districts and TIF districts. These two programs should be used on sites identified as high priority development/redevelopment sites. Meet with local elected officials to discuss the LERTA and TIF programs.
Develop LERTA Program. Develop a Mifflin County TIF program.
Develop authorizing ordinances to be adopted by each of the participating municipalities, as well as resolutions for the county and school district, to authorize desired financing programs.
Promote financing tools in conjunction with a broader marketing campaign.
The objectives listed above are noted as high priority level and have a time frame of 2013. The following will be noted as medium priority level and can have a time frame up to 2017.
Develop opportunities to create unique retail environments
With the exception of downtown Lewistown, Mifflin County lacks unique retail environments that provide an opportunity for the clustering of boutique retail stores. Some of the county's older plazas and strip centers have not been renovated since construction one or more decades ago and require at minimum new facades and possible redevelopment to create attractive shopping environments that appeal to destination retailers and customers.
Identify areas within the county for site development to enable to clustering of unique, boutique retail stores.
Visit places that offer boutique retail stores and restaurants to understand how the projects evolved.
Provide technical and financial assist to developers, such as Moraitis Properties Inc., which has proposed the multi-use development to be located at the Burnham/Yeagertown U.S. 322 exit.
Develop infrastructure to expand and create new opportunities for economic development
While some areas of the county have been improved with construction of new road, water, sewer and broadband facilities, there are other areas of the county that lack this infrastructure. To diversify its economic base, the county must identify areas that are in need of basic infrastructure.
Using infrastructure gaps identified during Objective 3, move forward with infrastructure improvements and/or expansion to help facilitate the development of new industrial and commercial sites.
Seek federal and state grant funds to construct infrastructure in each of the priority areas.
Develop a brand and marketing campaign for the county
Mifflin County will need to actively promote the county as a place to conduct business and as a place to live, work, visit and play. It should collaborate with the Chamber of Commerce and Focus Pennsylvania to invited and pursue new business online and in person.
Develop a brand image for Mifflin County's economic development program.
Develop a marketing plan that identifies the target audience(s) and methods of advertising to be used.
Develop marketing materials that support the marketing plan.
Foster and promote recreation opportunities to advance active healthy lifestyles year round for people who live, work, and visit Mifflin County
The County's scenic beauty and outdoor recreational resources, in particular, could help to position this central Pennsylvania region as a tourism destination as the logo "Discover Our Good Nature" advocates.
The Juniata/Mifflin Counties Greenway, Open Space and Rural Recreation Plan should guide the County's efforts to develop and promote recreational and cultural opportunities that could serve residents and visitors.
Mifflin County should continue to have a close alliance with the Juniata River Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visitor's Bureau.
Support the Juniata River Valley Regional Tourism Plan.
Use local recreation opportunities as tourism draws.
Undertake projects in recreation that utilize and heritage resources to advance tourism for both local "staycations" and distance travelers.
Consider the development of an agri-tourism program.
The Economic Development Plan finds ways to diversify the county's economic base and make the county look like a great place for business growth.
The Mifflin County Comprehensive Advisory Committee will meet again in fall 2013 and will discuss the Transportation Plan and the Community Facilities and Utilities Plan.