Franklin County poised to recover due to economic diversity, but could take some time
As Franklin County looks forward to reopening and adjusting to the economic challenges brought forth from the coronavirus pandemic, economic expert Mike Ross remains hopeful of the area’s ability to recover.
Ross, president of the Franklin County Area Development Corporation, said that the county’s diverse economy will help the area get back on its feet sooner.
“We are not unique here in Franklin County,” Ross said. “We’ve been hit hard by this pandemic, as every part of the country has been, but the pandemic has not relocated us. We are still in the same strategic geographic location. We still have a very diverse local and regional economy.”
To help local businesses weather the pandemic, the corporation has received federal funding to offer low-interest loans to those that need it.
“It was not dissimilar to the Paid Payroll Protection Program that the federal government rolled out, this actually came out about a week earlier than that,” Ross said.
The Franklin County Area Development Corporation is an economic development organization, certified by the Department of Community and Economic Development.
“With that certification, we are eligible to essentially deliver economic development services that are funded by the legislature and administered by the Department of Community Economic Development,” he said. “We locally deliver those programs.”
In this particular case, the Pennsylvania legislature made $61 million available to the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority. The FCADC got to work contacting local businesses that would qualify for the loans – more than ever before due to regulations that had been rolled back to allow most small businesses with fewer than 100 employees to be eligible.
“The response to this was overwhelming,” Ross said. “We had just slightly more than 100 inquiries locally, from businesses wanting to understand how to apply, so we sent the information to them. Of that hundred-plus, we were able to submit 18 applications for consideration, and of those 18, 13 were actually approved for funding.”
The businesses that were approved spanned across diverse industries throughout the county, according to Ross.
“When you put out $61 million in three days with no loans more than $100,000, you can see what the demand was like,” Ross said.
Geographically, Franklin County has an advantage, according to Ross.
“When we look at Franklin County and we look at the I-81 corridor, in particular, 12.5% of the nation’s GDP travels on Interstate 81,” Ross said. “We are within a 12-hour drive of essentially 50% of the North American population. That’s remarkable. That location hasn’t changed at all, so we’re confident that once we start to come back, that transportation logistics sector will be a big part of that.”
Ross also pointed to the strong defense sector, not only in Franklin County but regionally, as a source of boosting economic recovery.
“We have a strong manufacturing sector that’s anchored in Franklin County in terms of the Big Three that we always talk about: JLG Industries, Manitowoc Crane Group and Volvo Construction,” Ross said. “One of the post-pandemic investments I’m hoping Congress makes is in infrastructure.”
Infrastructure – in the context of rebuilding roads and the interstate highway system, expanding and improving the broadband system, upgrading the electric grid and improving water and sewer lines – will put the area in a better position to support investments and economic growth in the future, Ross explained.
“More importantly, where it’s a great unique opportunity here are those three companies I just mentioned,” Ross said. “They build the equipment that builds infrastructure. That creates jobs locally.”
While the money is readily available, Ross said infrastructure is the way to build for a better future.
“Infrastructure is an investment in our future that we absolutely have to make,” he said. “Up until this point, every time we have the conversation, it’s always ‘well, we don’t know where we would find the money to do it.’ To quote an often-used cliche now, attributed to Rahm Emanuel, ‘never let a good crisis go to waste.’ I think this is the opportunity to take advantage of the crisis.”
Franklin County is well-positioned from a housing standpoint as well, Ross mentioned.
“I think realtors are already starting to say the beginnings of folks wanting to move out of our major metro areas – DC, Baltimore, New York, Philadelphia, and so on – into a less congested area where you don’t have the population densities quite as high,” Ross said.
For now, stimulus money has bought business owners time, but that could soon run out, Ross said.
“It didn’t buy it indefinitely, so folks need to get back out and businesses need to reopen,” he said. “If there’s going to be additional monies, it’s going to come from the federal government. I don’t see the state being able to allocate. I could be wrong, but I think it’s gonna be a challenge for the state.”
Ross said he sees Franklin County’s economic resurgence in the future, but that it could take some time for the economy to adjust.
“I think that economic resurgence is probably 18 months away,” he said. “I believe it will start in 2022, in a very significant way, but we have to be prepared for it because that’s going to be very, very important for us to be ready to take advantage of that.”
Taking advantage of the resources available across the county will be a key aspect of success.
“We have been through recessionary times in the past, and we have rebounded strongly,” Ross said. “I think it’s important that they stay in touch with the resources available to them in the community – be it our office, be it the Chambers, be it their trade association, be it their lenders or bankers and so on – so that they’re aware of information that is becoming available and programs that might be available to help them.”
The resilience of the people that live in Franklin County could be the greatest asset for recovery.
“Our folks have an agrarian work ethic, which is the highest work ethic you can have,” Ross said. “So many folks in our area grew up in an agricultural environment or their family traces back to an agricultural heritage, and it has created a very, very strong work ethic. We’re resilient. We will bounce back. What we need is to be allowed to bounce back.”
Carley Bonk is a Watchdog Reporter for the USA Today Network – Pennsylvania. Her coverage spans across the southcentral region of Pennsylvania. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @carls_marie.