Push still on to fill Coal Township-SEEDCO Industrial Park
COAL TOWNSHIP - It's been a decade since the announcement of a multimillion-dollar economic development project was made concerning what would become the Coal Township-SEEDCO Industrial Park.
Expectations soared on the talk of companies constructing warehouses, manufacturing plants and ancillary businesses that held the potential for 1,400 full-time jobs to be created on abandoned coal land between Ranshaw and Kulpmont.
Former Gov. Edward Rendell himself was the star of an assembly Feb. 16, 2004, that included local, county and state officials, including former state Rep. Robert Belfanti, along with entrepreneurs and business professionals and some 200 guests inside the auditorium at Northwestern Academy.
The project was promising and ambitious and brought a badly needed jolt of optimism to lower Northumberland County.
The anchor tenant put down roots when Reinhart Foodservice opened its estimated $22 million distribution center in March 2006, but no other company has followed suit.
Any number of factors can be cited, among them the unexpected market crash and a reluctance among some investors to relocate away from the Interstates, even if I-81 is just a 13-mile drive.
Although the project appears stalled to casual observers, principals close to the industrial park have continued a push to market the industrial park and its 1,200 acres to prospective clients.
"Certainly, we're not giving up," said Rob Shirley, a venture and financial specialist from Villanova.
Coal Township-SEEDCO Industrial Park is among the properties featured on the sleek and comprehensive Focus Central Pennsylvania website, www.focuscentralpa.org. There are parcels that remain tax-free through 2020. Its water and sewage along with the proximity to rail service and the local workforce are emphasized.
Sites are listed on average at $24,000 per acre.
Shirley and Patrick Mack, Northumberland County's director of planning and industrial development, follow leads for potential clients as they're shared by the state's Governor's Action Team.
Those leads are being generated more frequently of late, Mack said, adding that he had met with members of the Governor's Action Team a few months back to keep the industrial park fresh in their minds.
"Hopefully, that's a sign that things are turning," Mack said of the increased frequency in leads.
A handful of entrepreneurs held in 2010 that the construction of a sewer pump station to service the industrial park was the missing link. It's since been built, but nothing materialized as a result.
Having that infrastructure in place certainly will only help matters, Shirley said.
"For us to have a future, we need to act on some of these opportunities knowing at some point in time it will engage someone," he said of infrastructure investments.
Mack added, "That has made us look good. If someone's going to locate here, I'm going to show them 'hey, we're not going to build it, it's here.'"
Alan Magan, president of Chesapeake Gardens, and Nicholas Cohen, chief operating manager of Future Fuels, were among businessmen who advocated that Mount Carmel Municipal Authority make the sewer infrastructure investment.
Magan later signed a letter of intent to relocate to Coal Township-SEEDCO. Instead, his company moved to Virginia, and he offered little explanation as to why.
Cohen is now an administrator of EmberClear, which purchased Future Fuels and is working to construct a power plant in Schuylkill County.
He likes the site at Coal Township-SEEDCO and sees its potential, but said that all the pieces weren't in place at the time when Future Fuels was seeking a spot, adding that tax issues regarding coal reserves compounded the matter.
Will rail help?
Mack thought the addition of a rail siding along Route 901 would help push the park over the top, with rail service offered across the road. That hasn't been the case, yet.
Feelers were put out to the natural gas industry, even as a storage site. For now, the industrial park is just outside the gas industry's area.
Shirley said SEEDCO and its investors "took a leap of faith" when it made its investment at the site. There's nothing to be had from giving up, he said.
"It certainly appears to be quiet from anybody else's vantage point," Shirley said. "There's a lot of effort being made."