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Chester County Press

Economic ideas for Route 1 corridor shared with London Grove board

12/09/2014 03:25PM ● By Richard Gaw

Photo by Richard L. Gaw Real estate developer Mike Pia, Jr. makes a presentation about the economic outlook for the Route 1 Corridor, with London Grove Township supervisors on Dec. 3

The main road from Kennett Square to Nottingham has the potential to be paved with even more economic opportunity, and two members of a Chester County-based economic initiative recently stopped by West Grove to share the news with local leaders.

Mike Pia, Jr. and Bob Grabus, members of the Economic Development Partners Initiative, made a presentation at the London Grove Township Board of Supervisors meeting on Dec. 3 that shared the economic vision for the Route 1 corridor. The outlook served as part of a tour of local municipalities Pia and Grabus are making along the corridor in order to understand the needs and desires of local leaders regarding future economic opportunities along the highway.

Pia, Jr., a real estate developer and a member of the land development and municipal coordination subcommittee of the Initiative, said that the group is currently made up of engineers, architects, real estate professionals, who are working with the County, the Southern Chester Chamber of Commerce, and the Chester County Economic Development Council.

The economic ground is fertile for growth and has already proven to be so, Pia, Jr. told supervisors.

"As you know, Southern Chester County is already home to a number of large businesses, such as Chatham Financial, Dansko, Genesis, Exelon, Tasty Baking, Herr Foods, as well as the mushroom industry," said Pia, Jr., who also looked to the building of a 205,000 square-foot Dansko warehouse and the planned construction of a Chester County Hospital site -- both in Jennersville -- as other examples of progress along Route 1.

"This area of Chester County has access to many major Mid-Atlantic markets, and direct access to New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C."

The hot property in the proposed development of the corridor is to the immediate south of Route 1, extending from Kennett Square to Nottingham, which Grabus said has enough room to build several million square feet of light industrial and commercial properties. Most of the most desirable sites that should be developed are not within or near the town centers of Kennett Square, West Grove, Oxford and Avondale, but in the areas between these town centers, Grabus said.

"If you don't infill in between the boroughs with capital investments and jobs and salaries, the boroughs will just dry up and blow away, because there's no one to spend money to keep the shops and businesses [in these downtown centers] vibrant," he said.

When it comes to business development, location can be a surefire way to a fast economic vibrancy. Pia said that one of the key areas of economic potential in the London Grove township is the Route 1-Route 41 vicinity, given its proximity to two major transportation routes that connect Lancaster to Wilmington and southern Chester County to Interstate 95.

"London Grove has a lot of uses that run along the [Route 1-Route 41] corridor, namely agricultural, commercial, retail, and office uses," he said. "We recognize that many municipalities are struggling to increase their revenue, and economic development is a good way to do that, because it enables a township to increase its tax base and employment base and offers different infrastructure funding opportunities."

What was a municipality's economic model 20 years ago is today's infrastructure wasteland, Grabus said. In decades past, the commonly-followed path to an area's economic vibrancy was to get developers to build a massive corporate park on the edge of a town, recruit companies to move there, and allow them to fill the box with employees.

"Because of the internet, the number of people who are now working from home, and virtual businesses, office parks are dinosaurs," Grabus said. "There are extremely high vacancy rates in some of these office parks, who all experienced early success but realize now that this model doesn't work."

While townships along the Route 1 Corridor should reject the office park mentality, they should embrace what Grabus calls "generational jobs," companies that are owned by individuals willing to set down roots in an area, and not conglomerates that are liable to ump town at the next best offer. He said buildings in the 20,000-50,000 square-foot range -- owned and operated by companies who employ local residents -- are the best economic option.

"Chester County is the 12th wealthiest county in the United States and the wealthiest county in Pennsylvania, but a lot of counties in parts of the country who shared that [office park philosophy] have found themselves falling off the cliff, because they were relying on what worked ten or twenty years ago," Grabus said. "We're trying to look forward and look at what's best for the county and the employee base, while keeping the economic health of the county strong."

While Grabus and Pia, Jr. are advising municipalities to rethink their strategies in drawing more economic opportunities to their communities, they also need to understand that the people driving the economic bus these days are the Millennial Generation, who range in age from 18 to 33 years old and are generally the children of Baby Boomers. It's an urban migration, Grabus said.

"Unlike their parents and their grandparents, seek a more urbanized lifestyle, where they can take advantage of a town's thriving cultural scene," Grabus said. "Millennials are looking to move back into these towns, be able to walk around and go to a local pub or shops or a restaurant. Our parents grew up telling us that we have to get out in the country and buy a suburban home. Our goal is to help bring some good companies between the boroughs, who will be able to attract the Millennials, who wish to work in or near revitalized towns, and yet be able to live and play there."

The Initiative’s game plan for Route 1 is reflective of a larger picture, one outlined in a recent report that spells out the ten-year economic strategy for Chester County. "VISTA 2025" is the economic development strategy that is expected to guide economic development efforts in Chester County for the next decade.

Grabus pointed out that the guiding philosophy of the strategy will be to maintain a balance between economic progress and the preservation of natural and historic resources. He said a seminar that details the specifics of VISTA 2025 will be held on Jan. 15, 2015 at the Herr Food visitor's center in Nottingham.

Pia suggested that members of the Initiative meet with London Grove township supervisors early in 2015.

"The goal is not to influence or manipulate or offer strict guidance," Pia, Jr. told the supervisors. "We more or less want to know what you folks are interested in, categorize that and understand what land is available, so that the county can better work with you, if they have an interested party looking for a home."

"This is all about where you want to take the [London Grove] township," Grabus said. "It's really about what townships want for their future, and for their kids.

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail [email protected].

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