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2016-12-09 / Community (County Spotlight)

Tioga County moves forward after the boom

Spotlight on Tioga County
By Spencer Myers

Even if the gold-rush mentality of the boom has calmed down, Tioga County, just like most of the northern tier, is still very much an integral part of the upstream sector of the natural gas industry.

With the wells now drilled and the brunt of the work done, only 3.1 percent of the county’s workforce remains in mining, quarrying and oil & gas while 18 percent of the county’s unemployment compensation coming from the same industry show what once was.

Beyond the natural gas industry, trade, transportation and utilities tops the list for unemployment compensation with 29 percent and manufacturing and health care top the list for highest percentage of employment with 15.4 and 15.5 percent respectively.

To track how Wellsboro and Tioga County as a whole feels about its present and future relationship with the shale gas industry, Marcellus Business Central spoke with Julie VanNess, executive director of the Wellsboro Area Chamber of Commerce. VanNess has been at the chamber of commerce for about 15 years and previously had careers working for the county and the navy as a civilian.

Wellsboro’s annual Dickens of a Christmas Celebration sees hundreds of locals and tourists pour into the street to shop for Christmas and celebrate the coming holiday season. 
Photo courtesy of Tim McBride Wellsboro’s annual Dickens of a Christmas Celebration sees hundreds of locals and tourists pour into the street to shop for Christmas and celebrate the coming holiday season. Photo courtesy of Tim McBride MBC: What sets Wellsboro apart as a place to live and a place to start your business?

VanNess: Wellsboro is a very unique community in the true sense of the word. People here work together to build a stronger community. It’s hard to describe because it is such a unique situation.

We just had a festival over the weekend. We shut the town down and we had vendors out and had a Christmas celebration. I had probably 100 performers that came out on the street, choirs and choruses, brass bands, actors and there was dancing in the street. People were dressed up in Victorian garb. All of these people were volunteers. Nobody was getting paid. They just come out. That’s an example of how the community works together to remain strong and help their businesses grow. That’s how our downtown stays alive and well in Wellsboro.

MBC: How has the Chamber kept Wellsboro’s tourism industry growing over the years? The town’s calendar already seems jam-packed, are there any plans to add new events in the future?

VanNess: We just added our winter celebration which is this February. That’s been going on for three years so that’s still coming off the ground. I think it will be a fairly successful event. There is also a grassroots effort together for this coming weekend [Dec. 10], which would be a second weekend of a Dickens Christmas. We always have something in the works here.

MBC: Tioga County experienced a very quick boom and bust in relation to the natural gas industry going from 15 wells in 2008 to 276 wells in 2010 then back down to 17 so far this year. Do you think the town was prepared for this kind of economic whiplash?

VanNess: You couldn’t help but see it. The town was not prepared when the boom hit. I don’t think any town can be. However there were a lot of agencies and political people that got together and determined what the needs were going to be and what’s the best way to meet those needs for the people coming into the town and the residents that were already here. They put in some middle class housing units for someone like a single mom who’s a nurse or who’s having trouble finding a rental unit that they could afford. It’s not low- income housing but it was mid-range housing. So with projects like that, the community got together to meet the needs.

When the boom leveled out, I think that we needed to regroup and figure out the best direction for their business from there. For example, some people turned their rental into a different kind of business or they changed their product line. I think everyone has done very well. We haven’t lost many businesses because of the lack of the industry right now. I think our tourism industry helps a great deal with that.

MBC: So do you think Wellsboro used that boom to its economic advantage?

VanNess: I think so; especially the retailers, the restaurants, the hotels and the rest of the service industry. I think that the county as a whole have benefited from the gas taxes and have been able to build infrastructure from that as well. I think the county benefited from the boom and will continue to benefit from the industry as time rolls on.

MBC: Is there a lot of hope in the community in regards to shale gas jobs returning back to the high numbers?

VanNess: I don’t think they count on it at this point. Originally on the outset the business and industry side hoped that there would be a return of a larger scale. Once everything got settled out they kind of understood. I think a lot of [the business side] is still in the hopes that it will come back heavily, but I don’t think that the county feels that.

MBC: What do you think are the biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity facing Tioga County and the chamber of commerce at this time?

VanNess: Our biggest challenge right now is industry. We’ve had major industries in the area that have shut down. One is shut down [GTE Plant] and the other one [a Wards Manufacturing plant] is due to shut down. Bringing in new industry in that will work in the locations that are available is a big challenge for us right now. We need to keep our county working, but I do think that this is also an opportunity to bring something new into the area at this point. .

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