By Holly Riddle
Just a short drive from Penn State’s University Park campus, the greater Moshannon Valley region welcomes visitors with its expansive and beautiful natural landscape and charming small towns like the region’s heart of activity, Philipsburg. However, for the average traveler with no business ties, Moshannon Valley may still just be a blip on the map as one travels the nearby major highways to get from Point A to Point B. For those in the know, though, it’s clear to see how the Moshannon Valley Economic Development Partnership (MVEDP) has been hard at work for decades.
Revitalizing the regional economy, helping companies create jobs, making an economic impact worth millions and drawing in major businesses that have relocated from around the country, MVEDP proves that Moshannon Valley has a lot to offer businesses — including quite a few things that they won’t find in other, nearby towns and cities.
Before MVEDP got its start, the Moshannon Valley economy was grim. Coal mining and garment manufacturing were two of the region’s previous economic drivers. As mines closed and manufacturing moved overseas, thousands of jobs were lost.
“In the late 1980s, local leaders came together and asked, ‘How are we going to address this economic decline? Let’s establish an economic development office with a full-time economic development professional to assist local leaders in revitalization’,” explained Stan LaFuria, executive director at MVEDP.
With that idea and a single building, the Moshannon Valley Economic Development Partnership was formed in 1988. Reclaiming a prior cigar manufacturing plant, the organization created its Moshannon Valley Enterprise Center, a 210,000-square-foot, multi-tenant space that housed an incubator.
"It's just amazing to drive by and see the facilities, see the parking lot and see all those vehicles and people working there, making a living.”
“The whole idea about ‘incubation’ back then in the 1980s and 1990s was to help entrepreneurs get their businesses started,” said LaFuria. “They would only stay a certain amount of time, maybe up to five years, and then they would graduate out of your facility and hopefully be successful and have their own businesses and their own facilities elsewhere — so it all started with this building, really.”
MVEDP’s economic development strategy was, and still is, based on providing businesses and entrepreneurs with the right tools, including building space and financing. Over the years, MVEDP has expanded its building and rental spaces beyond the Enterprise Center, to also include the Moshannon Valley Regional Business Park and Moshannon Valley Regional Business Center. The MVEDP is also certified to do state loans through the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority. The business park additionally boasts Keystone Opportunity Zone designation, which exempts businesses within the zone from some business taxes.
In many ways, the region’s development is still profiting off the original creation of MVEDP’s first properties. As the properties fill up, more jobs are created and more workers are drawn to the area, and so are even more businesses and organizations. Current construction projects include a new Moshannon Valley Emergency Medical Services ambulance and training facility, and a Graystone Residential complex.
LaFuria has been with the organization for more than three decades, and his career longevity is hardly a rarity among the MVEDP staff and board. A number of the MVEDP’s board members have participated for multiple decades and they represent a range of industries including engineering, banking and finance. The MVEDP office staff have likewise been with the organization for more than two decades. Over these decades of work, they’ve been privy to a multitude of business success stories, all made possible by the economic development tools offered by the MVEDP.
“As of late December, the MVEDP could count 25 businesses that have established their operations in the greater Philipsburg area, but that emanated from the Happy Valley and State College region,” said LaFuria. “They all had some type of connection to Penn State, State College or Happy Valley.”
LaFuria recounts one such story: “The parents of a Penn State student had their manufacturing business in Miami, Florida. Through their many trips from Florida to Happy Valley, they grew to love the area and decided to move their business here. Four employees came with them to Pennsylvania, and they set up their manufacturing operation in our Moshannon Valley Enterprise Center. That company, Drucker Diagnostics, started with 4,000 square feet and their four employees and now has close to a hundred workers and 74,000 square feet.”
He mentions another: “These guys were engineering students at Penn State and they designed a truck bed cover as part of a class project. The design was so good that they decided to take their truck cover to market. Diamondback Truck Covers is in our business park now. They bought land from us, built their plant there and now need to expand that plant and grow. It's just amazing to drive by and see the facilities, see the parking lot and see all those vehicles and people working there, making a living.”
Many businesses that come to Moshannon Valley originally have connections to Penn State or State College and surrounding towns — but then when they see all that Moshannon Valley has to offer, they quickly set their sights on building their businesses there. One of the primary perks that Moshannon Valley offers businesses, that State College just can’t compete with, is rent at $4 per square foot compared to the market rates in State College at over $15 per square foot.
“It's all about dollars and cents really,” LaFuria said. “There's a lot of savings business owners can incur by getting set up here. It's a lower cost, and yet we're still dealing with well-maintained facilities, with full-time maintenance.”
The area also offers a desirable workforce. LaFuria said, “The companies that have come here have needed to find workers as they’ve grown from a few employees to a hundred employees. If you treat people here well and pay them a fair wage, they're going to be very good workers.”
“State College is not that far away. Most of that trip is a four-lane highway, and 25 minutes,” added LaFuria. “The owner of a business or an entrepreneur can easily get here to Phillipsburg and to his plant or business. The housing stock is also improving, and we have younger people coming into the area, wanting to be involved in different organizations. There’s new perspective and new life in the community, and it just keeps getting better and better.”
Looking toward that “better and better” future, the MVEDP plans additional land development and the creation of another business park in the future.
For business leaders and entrepreneurs who want to be a part of Moshannon Valley’s growing business landscape, MVEDP offers a wealth of support, from entrepreneur resource kits to building space and low-cost financing.
“All they have to do is contact our office and we will either assist them or get them pointed in the right direction,” noted LaFuria.
This supportive nature and excitement about continuing growth isn’t just limited to the MVEDP, though. It’s an attitude that pervades the Moshannon Valley region. As LaFuria said, “One thing about this area? People are really dedicated to their community. They’re loyal. It’s a smaller-town atmosphere where people know one another, their neighbors. For a business owner, they're going to know that MVEDP is going to be there to help them. Anything that they need, we're going to try to help.”