“It is not just the creation of jobs, but the capacity created in a community to identify and use resources for long-term growth.”
Gary Laird, president, Hanover Chamber of Commerce.
Local business and nonprofit leaders as well as interested community members met at HACC on Wednesday at the December @Home Community Coalition meeting. The purpose was to discuss job creation and economic development strategies.
The discussion was led by Robin Fitzpatrick, president of the Adams County Economic Alliance, and Gary Laird, president of the Hanover Chamber of Commerce. Their presentation led off a lively discussion with members of the audience.
Gary Laird and Robin Fitzpatrick
Fitzpatrick started by saying the concept of economic development has changed completely in the past 20 years. Fitzpatrick said economic development was historically concerned with land development (such as buying land and putting in sewers and roads) to attract large employers (the Adams Commerce Center, for example).
Now, said Fitzpatrick, economic development efforts are more properly called “community development” and are more concerned with issues such as affordable housing, workforce development, and transportation.
Describing community development activities in Hanover, Laird said “we have a full-time focus on how we can improve housing and other downtown amenities to attract foot traffic.” Laird pointed out that major investors who would undertake major development projects aren’t just interested in the property; they want to know whether you have the tools (financing, tax districts, zoning) in place, what activities there are to attract foot traffic, and the state of the schools and roads.
Laird said the Hanover Chamber is now concerning itself with issues such as homelessness and poverty. “We used to talk about expanding sewer capacity. Now the talk is about affordable housing and transportation,” said Laird.
Community development requires the effort of the entire community. “Everyone has a stake in this: a hospital recruiting a doctor will find that the candidate’s impression of downtown makes a huge difference.”
Laird stated that the target audience for downtown housing is young professionals. Downtown is traditionally where small businesses get their start and one thing the Chamber is doing is helping them with mentoring, business plans, and providing other resources that can help the businesses succeed.
Fitzpatrick pointed out that the lower part of Adams County revolves around tourism while upper Adams is the agricultural district (which accounts for more than $500 million in annual economic activity). But the southeastern part of the county is closely linked with Hanover.
Adams County Commissioner Marty Qually noted that “people tend to focus on Gettysburg Borough, but McSherrystown, Conewago, Littlestown, and Bonneauville are also important areas for community development.” Adams County planner Harlan Lawson agreed and pointed out that some of the fastest growing areas in the county are in its southeast corner, adjacent to Hanover.
Audience member Mark Berg suggested “we should look at Hanover and that part of Adams County as one labor market – this would make it easier to make sure there is adequate transportation.”
Several speakers also discussed the importance of citizen involvement. Laird pointed out that Hanover (and many towns) suffered from a decline of social involvement. He cited a decline in volunteerism and less involvement of young professionals in nonprofit boards and running for office.
Commissioner Qually asked for people to get more involved in local government. He pointed out that most people attending local boards are either speaking at that meeting or angry about something – relatively few people come just to monitor their government in action or to make their views known.
“If a few people came, for example, to our hearings on the Community Development Block Grants and told us affordable housing is a priority, we would pay attention,” said Qually.
South Central Community Action Program Executive Officer Megan Shreve emphasized the importance of living wage jobs. “Many of our workforce readiness people just go to Hanover because there are jobs in Hanover,” said Shreve.
@Home is a coalition of community groups and individuals concerned with the issues of affordable housing, public transportation, and living wage jobs.
A slide shown during the presentation emphasizes the changing view of economic development