EDITORIAL: York must cash in on economic opportunity

York Dispatch Editorial Board

There’s been plenty of movement on the local economic development front of late and, happily, much of it is in the right direction.

Word that the York County Economic Alliance has steered more than $19 million in grant money to York County for a number of big-ticket development, cultural and public works projects certainly falls under the heading of good news.

Among the projects in line for much-needed assistance: the multi-phase Northwest Triangle building plan ($6 million); the Codorus Creek Beautification Initiative, which aims to increase pedestrian access and greenways along the creek in York City and beyond ($5 million); RHI Magnesita’s new industrial facility ($3 million); and ongoing historic renovations at the Yorktowne Hotel ($2 million).

It’s not like there’s no skin in the game for recipients. The 2-1 matching grants require them to pony up 50 percent of what they’ll receive before the county sends dime one their way.

Needless to say, they need to step up. Private developers and business leaders can ill afford to leave this kind of money on the table at a time when the region is in position to move the economic-development needle so significantly.

High-visibility projects like the Yorktowne and quality-of-life initiatives like the Codorus Creek greenway plan are the type of location-specific attractions that not only enhance a region’s attractiveness and reputation but can turn the heads of potential investors looking to piggyback on the growth and attendant enthusiasm.

A new 240,000 square-foot robotics building is being planned for the Northwest Triangle in York City. Monday, June 25, 2018. John A. Pavoncello photo.

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The potential for progress doesn’t stop with the grants. York County Economic Alliance President Kevin Schreiber announced this month that his agency would be partnering closely with the city of York-focused economic development entity Downtown Inc to promote business growth countywide.

The two sides described the partnership as an alliance rather than a merger. That’s a welcome distinction.

By maintaining its autonomy, Downtown Inc can continue to focus on the specific challenges and needs of urban development. That’s key: Successful development in the 26 square blocks of downtown York will, by necessity, look much different from successful development in, say, Hanover.

York County Economic Alliance President and Chief Executive Officer Kevin Schreiber and Downtown Inc CEO Silas Chamberlin, right, talk with the media during a press conference at PeoplesBank Park announcing an alliance between the two organizations Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. Bill Kalina photo

In fact, Schrieber pointed to Downtown Inc’s urban expertise as being exactly the component the economic alliance needs as it seeks to nurture growth countywide. And it’s a component that could well be diluted or lost altogether under a merger.

The new deal is a vast improvement over a previous plan that would have simply put the alliance in charge of managing downtown development.

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Schrieber, Downtown Inc CEO Silas Chamberlin, York City Mayor Michael Helfrich and the members of both boards are to be commended for recognizing the potential in joining forces in this unique way.

The grants and new partnerships are undeniably cause for optimism. It is now incumbent upon the region’s economic, political and development leaders to take full advantage of these opportunities.

The economic-development ball is teed up nicely. York’s leaders must now show they’ve got the drive.