By Peter Becker
A loss in both population and number of businesses in Pike County should prompt a desire to see further economic development, says Michael J. Sullivan, Executive Director, Pike County Economic Alliance.
He's talking about the county that a few short years ago, was rated as the fastest growing county in Pennsylvania. Less than a hundred miles from New York City and served by Interstate 84, the county has long been both a convenient get-away to the countryside and attractively poised for companies seeking locations away from the congested and costly metropolis.
The Alliance was formed in 2011 as a collaboration between the Pike County Chamber of Commerce and the Pike County Economic Development Authority, with Sullivan as director of both organizations. They continue to function with separate boards and budgets, but work together on their shared economic mission.
He cited statistics which he is compiling for a broader profile on Pike County business prospects, for the Chamber. Data was drawn from the US Census, Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and other sources.
• Between April 1, 2011 and July 1, 2011, Pike County lost 0.9% of its population, or 515 people.
Pike County's population blasted off starting with the 1970 Census, with a dramatic and consistent climb through 2010.
• Migration data tracked by the IRS show that the number of people moving into Pike County has been dropping since 2005, and in 2011, finally went below the number of people leaving the County. In the decade ending in 2010, Pike County grew by 23% as compared to the US, which grew in the same period by 9%. This led to a great amount of new home development and commerce.
• Pike is below the national average for children under 5 years of age (by 1.9%), and over the national average for people age 65 and over (by 3.2%).
• The number of business establishments with at least one employee in Pike County has been steadily dropping since 2007, after a continuous rise since 1998. In 2007 there were 977 businesses; in 2010 there were 887, a loss of 90.
• In that same time frame, the number of paid employees decreased, from 8,177 in 2007 to 7,569 three years later (a loss of 608 employees).
• There were also 3,799 "non-employee" businesses in Pike in 2010, run by a single person without paid staff. There were 3,853 in 2009.
• The average amount spent per person on retail in Pike, for 2007, was $6,847. This compares with the national per capita average of $12,990. The problem, Sullivan noted, is that Pike residents tend to travel outside the County to shop.
• Average weekly wages in Pike County for the first quarter of 2011 stood at $607, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average wage for Pennsylvania was $960, and nationally, $984. The average wage in Wayne County was $646, and in Monroe, $786.
• Percentage of those employed in Pike County continues to be close to the bottom statewide. PA Department of Labor & Industry reported for November 2012, an unemployment rate of 10.1% for Pike County, tied with Philadelphia County. Only Cameron County in the north-central region was higher, with 10.5%. The rate for Wayne County was 6.7%, Monroe was 9.0%. Statewide the rate average was 7.3%, and nationally, 7.4%.
The jobless rate in Pike County a year before was 9.4%.
"There are people who believe everything is fine," Sullivan said of Pike County's economic climate. "The purpose of developing new jobs is critical."
Pennsylvania remains friendly to business in terms of taxes and regulations. For fiscal year 2013, the Tax Foundation shows that Pennsylvania ranked 19th out of 50. New York State was at the bottom, in 50th place; New Jersey ranked 49th.
Researching data for Pike County, he said, helps drive him as a proponent of economic development. Suitable land is being sought to develop parcels for new companies or those looking to expand. Unfortunately, much of the land set aside in Blooming Grove Township for a business park has been shown to be difficult to develop.
Out of 350,000 acres in Pike County, Sullivan said, he would like to see 200 or 300 of useable land available for business. Topography and regulations both make it difficult.
He noted that a lot of thought and investment has gone into setting land aside in its natural state. In his view, interests of land preservation and business development can work together. Sullivan emphasized that what he would wish to see is "thoughtful" economic development, that would not harm the environment.
He said he truly understands the sensitivity of those who do not want to see a factory "across the street or next door." Some tell him that they came to Pike County to get away from development. Sullivan asked, what if their children or grandchildren were looking for jobs in Pike County.