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2017-09-15 / Community (County Spotlight)

Northern tier adapts to cycles of natural gas market

Spotlight on Bradford County

With a smaller, steadier economy than the rest of the the Marcellus Shale region, Susquehanna and Bradford counties were bound to experience some economic whiplash during the recent boom and bust in the natural gas market.

Now recovering, the northern counties are looking to solidify a more manageable boom and bust cycle, while keeping the legacy sector of their economy well- supported. Help will come in part from the shale gas industry taxes and revenue.

The recent developments on the Ira Reynold’s Riverfront Park project are a good indicator of the county investing in its future. The Susquehanna Depot Borough was awarded $250,000 from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) to complete the $1,363,167 brownfield redevelopment project and construct a community park and playground in the borough.

According to Susquehanna Independent, Paul Magnosky, of DCED,  the park would provide “tangible, immediate benefits” to the community, and also “spur further economic development.

“This project is meant to serve a community with an old industrial site with potential to be useful to residents once it is cleaned up,” said Mike Bedrin, Director of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Northeast Regional Office to the Susquehanna Independent. “It is a great example of state agencies working with local officials to provide a recreational benefit to residents.”

The community has also begun hosting Re-entry Employment Specialist training events aimed at getting local service professionals to develop a larger re- engagement program that will transition ex-offenders back into the workforce.

To provide an overview of how Susquehanna and Bradford counties have reacted to natural gas’s cyclical market, Marcellus Business Central spoke with Kim Barnes, who has served as deputy director of the Northern Tier Regional Planning and Development Commission for 35 years.

MBC: What industries in particular have seen growth or expansion in Bradford and Susquehanna counties in the past year?

Barnes: If I could go a little further back than that. Typically, our economy would best be classified as low and steady. So normally, we wouldn’t see huge swings in either direction. In other words, pretty much regardless of what the national economy was doing, we were slow and steady without big drops or big upswings. So that was typical for a long time. Then the gas industry changed everything.

When they first came to town they had a huge impact. Nobody knew a whole lot a bout the industry for the most part because we never had exposure to the industry before. So there was a pretty big learning curve for everybody. So we saw the first boom and we experienced the first dip. Now we are trying to go out and educate ourselves. Everybody says that this industry is cyclical so there are huge booms and busts all the time and that’s normal. It’s hard to accept that as normal when you are not used to that.

MBC: Do you think the cycle will get you back to where you were during the boom?

Barnes: We’ve already experienced somewhat of an upswing in the past six months to a year. Maybe not to the point that it was in the initial first rush. But we expect it to get into some kind of normal cycle.

MBC: As a place to live and a place to start a business, what do you think sets the Northern Tier apart?

Barnes: We have a fairly robust manufacturing base. For a rural area we have quite a lot of manufacturing. We have some world-class manufacturers that employ a fair amount of people. There has been some downturn but, for the most part, the industry remains relatively steady.

Agriculture is also still a big part of our region. We have seen some growth in that area. The bigger corporate farming operations have seen some growth.

MBC: Has the impact tax money been invested in a way to boost local infrastructure and other necessities for other industries?

Barnes: The short answer is yes, absolutely. In fact, we just recently looked into the dollars that have come into our counties and municipalities from the tax. I would say, without a doubt, our municipalities have been able to do some infrastructure projects that they otherwise would not have been able to afford, so it has benefited the region tremendously.

MBC: I realize that New England and New York are kind of a tough nut to crack for shale gas infrastructure and that has led to some projects starting and stopping. Are there any midstream projects that you have hope for going through the northern tier?

Barnes: We understand the necessity of developing the infrastructure to move the product to market because, otherwise, it doesn’t do a whole lot of good. So in general we’d like to see those moving forward.

MBC: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the two counties and the development commission at this time?

Barnes: One of the things that we’ve been hearing a lot about in our region in general is the further development of broadband infrastructure and availability. We seem to be missing out on some of the action because we don’t have consistently available broadband service throughout the region.

We’ve also been struggling with natural gas infrastructure. We have all of this natural gas, but some of our region doesn’t have access to it. We don’t have the infrastructure locally to take advantage of it.

It always comes down to money but we are definitely working on a couple of community pipeline projects and doing all we can to move them forward. .

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