There are a handful of prosperous communities around the country which seem convinced, with the possible exception of a few intimate cafés and convenience stores, that commercial development is an unwelcome intrusion on their serenity. And a few of them have actually managed to sustain themselves on real estate tax revenue alone. Think Malibu or Palm Beach.
But those are the exceptions. Virtually everyone else wants businesses to settle in their community. The reasons are easy to understand: businesses pay taxes; businesses create jobs; businesses drive up property values; and businesses offer convenience to local consumers.
So to attract business owners, many communities offer financial incentives – tax abatements, credits, loans, grants, training programs, real estate and so on – all of which are directly or indirectly funded by local taxpayers. It’s referred to by some economic development professionals as “preparing the package,” and every community is expected to have one ready to lay at the feet of anyone involved in commercial site selection.
Cranberry Township, like most communities, also welcomes economic development. But our package is quite a bit different than those of our neighbors. Instead of offering taxpayer-backed bond issues, publicly financed road improvements, special zoning, exemption from local taxes, and so on, we offer something more meaningful: a great place to run a profitable business.
That involves a whole cluster of attributes, the most important of which are making sure the market fundamentals are in place: easy access to paying customers, a well-prepared workforce, predictable permitting, ample utilities, room to grow, and a supportive community culture. It is an agenda which Cranberry has been quietly working on for years, and it appears to be working quite well.
Take, for instance, the access issue. We have partnered with PennDOT and private builders in using fees resulting from land development projects to create multiple road improvements throughout the Township – particularly along our most traffic-intensive corridors. We have invested heavily in advancing the professionalism of Cranberry’s public safety workers – both our career and volunteer first responders. We’re making extensive improvements to our water and wastewater treatment systems. We’ve made significant investments in our parks, library, and other public amenities which have helped attract a residential population with an enviable demographic profile.
We have continued to refine our code of ordinances and our administrative processes to assure high quality land development with minimal delays. We have compiled a growing body of high-value business information and posted it to the Business Hub portion of our website. We have worked to raise public awareness of Cranberry’s vibrant technology community. We have collaborated with local nonprofit organizations in helping to orient guests and new residents to Cranberry. And there’s more in the pipeline.
So, what are the results? The rate of economic growth we’ve experienced this year alone is at an impressive 18.9 percent, with unemployment at just around 4 percent. Not counting residential housing – which saw one of its strongest markets in years – 2012 will witness 1.25 million square feet of new construction. That includes stores, restaurants, offices, schools, factories, churches and other institutions, totaling $120 million. When you add in homes and public infrastructure expenses for the year, it’s over $200 million – and that’s just within our municipal boundaries.
Not surprisingly, all of that has led to more jobs – over 2,500 coming from new development this year alone. And that’s on top of the 20,500 already here which, taken together, represent a healthy balance of industry sectors. So our daytime population is now significantly larger than our nighttime residential population. And the momentum for continued growth is strong.
Ironically, however, the foundation for that growth is only indirectly related to business; it’s making sure we’re a great place to live. As a flourishing suburban community, we’re seen as the sort of upscale local market that retail merchants are eager to serve. And by showing ourselves to be a well-run and family-friendly place to live, we have become an attractive location for businesses wishing to attract and retain quality employees.
Cranberry Township’s comprehensive plan visualizes our residential population growing to 50,000 residents by 2030 – up from 28,000 in 2010 – before leveling off. But even then, we see ourselves continuing to expand as a regional business hub, not just for retail, but as a major center for technology companies as well. And we’re doing all of it by remaining focused on being this region’s residential and business location of choice for the 21st century.
I would love to hear your thoughts about Cranberry’s emergence as a regional business hub; write to me at: email@example.com