County Commissioners report on revitalized Happy Valley economy


By Chris Buchignani

According to many accounts, Happy Valley derives its monicker from the unusual economic resiliency that the region enjoyed throughout the Great Depression. This legacy lives on, according to Commissioner Mark Higgins, who invoked the story in delivering a promising report with his fellow commissioners on the state of Centre County.

The Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County (CBICC) hosted a luncheon on Thursday, October 5 featuring County Commissioners Higgins, Steve Dershem, and Amber Concepcion, who presented an annual update on the county, covering topics ranging from public services and county corrections to capital projects and economic development. The commissioners had plenty of positive news regarding the regional economy, leading into Higgins comparing Happy Valley’s bounce back from COVID to the purported Depression-era origins of its nickname.

Introducing the portion of the commissioners’ presentation on economic issues, Higgins cited over $10 million in county small business grants distributed during the pandemic as helping to fuel a faster-than-expected rebound from the lull of 2020-21. He also made sure to note one key contributing factor to the area’s economic stability of great interest to the audience and all their constituents:

“We want to remind everyone that Centre County government property taxes have not increased in 13 years. It's a credit to county staff, and the well over 100 different partner agencies we work with.”

All three commissioners stressed the importance of a team-based approach to building a stable, diversified Happy Valley economy that is anchored by the presence of Penn State while extending prosperity beyond the Centre Region. In particular, they emphasized economic development partnerships with the CBICC, Bellefonte Intervalley Chamber of Commerce, Moshannon Valley Economic Development Partnership, State College Downtown Improvement District, Downtown Bellefonte, Philipsburg Revitalization Corporation, and Happy Valley Adventure Bureau.

Commissioner Steve Dershem said about these groups: “You are the engines. We are oftentimes cheerleaders for the ideas that you guys come up with, and we might be able to give you the resources.”

HappyValley Industry readers will not be surprised to learn that tourism was cited as an important (and growing) driver of the region’s economy, as we have previously featured stories on how events, marketing, outdoor recreation, and PA’s investment in attracting visitors are all boosting business here in the Valley. The Happy Valley Adventure Bureau received a $500,000 grant from the American Rescue Plan, one of the first in the nation, and Higgins indicated that the area has recovered better and more quickly than most other college towns across the country. Other key economic stats related to tourism, which the report described as a billion-dollar business, included:

  • 70.1% hotel occupancy in 2023, up 4.5 from 2022
  • $8.025 million in hotel revenue, up 20% from 2022 (top growth among PA counties)
  • $840,000 in Adventure Bureau grants distributed in support of 72 events and projects

Commissioner Amber Concepcion praised the Adventure Bureau and CEO Fritz Smith for these successes and for the first year of the Happy Valley Ironman event, which was held in late June.

“I think Fritz and his team really deserve huge recognition for the success of The Happy Valley Ironman in its first year,” Concepcion said. “They assembled an amazing corps of volunteers, and for the first year of a three-year contract, they've just received great feedback from athletes who traveled here from all over the country that it was a well-run event. And I think one of the favorite aspects from any of the athletes was the bicycle ride, because so many local families turned out to line up along the route and cheer on the athletes.”

(L-R) Centre County Commissioners Steve Dershem, Amber Concepcion, Mark Higgins, CBICC CEO Greg Scott

Indeed, one of the most popular stories on HappyValley Industry this year was this editorial by local sales guru and author Ben Lawrence on how experiencing Happy Valley Ironman rejuvenated his love for the area.

Steve Dershem also emphasized the work of the Happy Valley Sports and Entertainment Alliance, the dedicated sports commission created by the Adventure Bureau. The group seeks to boost the local economy by attracting more large sporting events like the Ironman along with camps, tournaments, and showcases. He praised the Alliance’s early success, suggesting more is in store for the future. Dershem also noted the event topping his own personal wish list, one that will no doubt appeal to Penn Staters and sports fans across Pennsylvania.

“I heard on the radio, they were asking about what kind of things you would want to see come to Central Pennsylvania, nobody mentioned anything about winter hockey and Beaver Stadium. I just think the Flyers and the Penguins would be great for the Winter Classic at Penn State. I'm just saying.”

The commissioners also pointed out several other sources of good economic news for Happy Valley. Centre Volunteers in Medicine, a leader in providing medical care to disadvantaged residents, will construct a new clinic with help from a $3 million grant through Pennsylvania’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP). Another $2.2 million RACP grant will be used to expand Bellefonte’s Titan Energy Park, and the county recently added a $100,000 grant to state and federal funding for construction of downtown business incubator in Philipsburg.

They also reported that the addition of the Equine Center at Grange Park has positioned Happy Valley as a hub for horse shows and other equestrian events not only for the state, but nationally, as the area now boasts one of the largest equine facilities on the East Coast.




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