Can small business revitalize York?

John Joyce

Cities seeking revitalization need a cooperative effort from government, business and industry, community members and civic groups and nonprofits all working together, or so was the consensus coming out of the historic Yorktowne Hotel in York City recently.

The second installment of York College's Henry D Schmidt Lecture Series, dubbed "Entrepreneurship as a Tool to Revitalize our Cities 2.0," drew 90 registered attendees Wednesday, including top area business leaders, small-business owners and interested community members.

A discussion panel included Rep. Kevin Schreiber, Royal Square Development Corp. vice president of real estate development Dylan Bauer, CEO and president of Design Build Restoration Development Derek Dilks, York City business administrator Michael Doweary and Industrial Development Authority chairman Jack Kay.

Jefrey Woodall, chair of the Graham School of Business at York College, served as moderator.

Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia community development research manager Keith Wardrip leads a presentation on economic revitalization sponsored by York College Wednesday night.

A presentation by Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia community development research manager Keith Wardrip steered the discussion. Much of the data Wardrip presented showed that neither industry nor local government alone can bear the costs of revitalizing a metropolitan area.

"The city’s fiscal constraints are real, and they limit the financial role that the city can play in revitalization efforts," Wardrip said.

Among the research he compiled for the presentation, data from 2009 through 2014 showed manufacturing jobs were down 11 percent. Construction jobs fell by 23 percent over the same period.

While data from 2015 has not yet been compiled, economic indicators suggest a slight improvement over that period, but the fact remains jobs are down in the areas of skilled labor as well as in fields where decent-paying jobs require higher education, Wardrip said.

"I think there was agreement in the room about the need to create a balanced economy, one with decent-paying job opportunities for York residents, regardless of their educational attainment." he said. "The latest available data suggests that York has an under-representation of jobs in the knowledge economy. Efforts to promote higher education among York residents and retain graduates, along with increased support for entrepreneurship and small business development generally, could begin to address this shortage."


More than 90 York residents attend the York College discussion on economic revitalization of the city at the Yorktowne Hotel Wednesday night

Compared to the state average of 5.1 percent, York, at 4.6 percent, boasts an unemployment rate that is on par with peer cities such as Lancaster, Harrisburg, Reading and Allentown, where rates range from 4.0 to 5.2 percent, according to Wardrip's presentation. Much of his data is derived from the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Small business lending, however, is lower in York than in any of the comparative cities and is nearly half that of the national average. According to the statistics, per 10,000 residents, York received 54 small business loans compared to 56 in Harrisburg, 72 in Scranton and 80 in Lancaster which tied the national average.

As for the amounts of the loans, the national average equates to $229 per person; the York figure is above that at $232. Wardrip said that meant the number of loans coming into York might be less, but that did not mean they were insufficient.

Needs: Much of the discussion from the audience hinted at the need for improvements in access to higher education as well as skilled trade certifications in York and the need for intellectuals with degree-based careers to have adequate living space and entertainment options in the city along with the considerations being made for blue-collar workers.

One York City resident, John Jamison, worked at Caterpillar for 30 years before the company closed down its local plant. He called for more vocational/technical school programs, such as electrician and heating and air training, to reinvigorate York's depressed workforce.

"I wonder if we're doing any statistics that, as they come out of vo-tech, how many (graduates) are we retaining here in York?" he asked.

As manufacturing industries turn to robotics and a workforce with degrees in technology and science that can operate those systems, the buildings they occupy are still going to need to be built, maintained, renovated and repaired, he said.

"They're going to need electricians, they're going to need plumbing, they're going to need piping, they're going to need skilled trade," Jameion said.

New businesses: New businesses and development are up in York. Thursday's groundbreaking at Royal Square Development's newest apartment-living space, to be called Revi Flats, along West Market Street is evidence of that.

Speaking from the dais, Royal Square's Bauer said he believes the situation has already begun to improve since the figures in Wardrips report were compiled. He said he hopes that in the near future, fellow developers and city officials will be able to look back and see the evidence was before them, that in 2016 revitalization was already underway.

"I think, specific to what we are encountering in city is where my focus is, as well as the Commonwealth and on a national scale, is that resurgence of millennials in demand of that urban profit. So speaking specifically to that, I hope to see in 2019, when we look back at '15, '16 and '17 numbers, we'll be back in the positive," Bauer said.

— Reach John Joyce atjjoyce2@yorkdispatch.comor on Twitter at  @JohnJoyceYD.