One of Pennsylvania’s Fastest-Growing Counties
Franklin County, PA
Franklin County lies about fifty miles south of Harrisburg and just ninety miles northwest of the Baltimore-Washington area, which makes it perfect for a range of industries and highly desirable for companies’ transportation and logistics needs. The county attracts both new and established companies for many reasons, from a business-friendly climate to its location on busy Interstate 81 in south-central Pennsylvania, which is nothing less than ideal for growth and development.
“The fact we are on Interstate 81 is a big deal,” states Mike Ross, a proud Pennsylvania resident. “Within a twelve-hour drive, you can effectively hit fifty percent of the North American population.”
Ross has served as president of the Franklin County Area Development Corporation (FCADC) for the past thirty-one years. The development corporation has had many accomplishments over the decades, yet Ross is focused on the future of the historic county, named in honor of founding father Benjamin Franklin.
A prime location, business parks, a designated Keystone Opportunity Zone, tax abatements and a development corporation focused on nurturing existing businesses and bringing new industries to the area are just some of the reasons that draw global businesses like multinational consumer goods manufacturer Procter & Gamble, Swedish construction equipment manufacturer Volvo and many others.
One of the most recent international businesses expanding in Franklin County is Atlas Copco, a Swedish industrial giant founded in 1873. The company is known for its industrial tools and air compressors which are used by many of the world’s construction companies and mine site operators. The conglomerate, with about 45,000 employees worldwide, closed its operation in the Dallas Metroplex area, has consolidated production at Franklin County’s Fort Loudon location , bringing dozens of new jobs.
“We think there will be opportunities for future growth that will make it that much more significant going forward,” comments Ross of the company. “It’s an interesting operation – very state-of-the-art – and we were excited to accommodate them, given the fact that it is manufacturing, a small community, and there are opportunities for future growth.” The new facility of 66,000 square feet will employ approximately one hundred individuals.
The recent growth of Atlas Copco in the area did not happen by chance but through fostering relationships with the company over the years. Ross says the FCADC approached the business about six or seven years ago regarding expansion.
“They came back this time and said ‘Would you build us a building that would allow us to accommodate what we are trying to do?’ We were thrilled to be able to do it, and the building project went as well as it could from a construction standpoint. The building is filled, and they have been operating in the building for about ten months now.”
Ross says that the formal ribbon cutting for Atlas Copco happened on September 26, 2017. This was on the same day as a ribbon cutting ceremony for Eldorado Stone, a maker of architectural stone veneer that employs about 350 people. Eldorado – which already has a plant in the borough of Greencastle and a distribution facility in Hagerstown – had outgrown its old space. It was looking for a site with the room necessary to meet both present needs and future growth of the company. The new facility has about 432,000 square feet.
“In the case of Atlas Copco and Eldorado Stone, what makes it exciting for us is manufacturing, and that’s important for Franklin County.” Although Ross states that Pennsylvania as a whole remains somewhat stagnant regarding growth, since Franklin County is on the I-81 corridor, this has not been an issue here.
The area is home to several significant global original equipment manufacturers (OEM), a strong defense sector and others that want to be on Interstate 81 to transport products into the Northeast. As a result, there is tremendous business activity in Waynesboro – a borough on the southern edge of Pennsylvania – and Greencastle, a historic borough of Franklin County founded in 1782.
“We have an interchange on Interstate 81 in Greencastle, which is arguably the most developable interchange on Interstate 81 in Pennsylvania,” states Ross. “That’s where Eldorado Stone is. Over the last three to four years, there has been about $300 million worth of investment and upwards of a thousand people working there.”
Among the many advantages for businesses expanding in or relocating to Franklin County is the county’s population. The county itself is home to about 155,000 people, and it is just within a day’s drive of over fifty percent of the population of North America.
Franklin County has access to a highly skilled labor force of 490,000 within a forty-mile radius. This, along with extensive Interstate highways, access to rail, local and international airports, water access through the ports of Baltimore, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and ‘shovel ready’ sites of over 1,500 acres of developable land near transportation and public utilities all adds up to one thing: Franklin County is an ideal place to do business.
Franklin County ranks in the top ten of Pennsylvania’s sixty-seven counties for growth, and its varied industry sectors include retail, wholesale and hospitality – which account for twenty-three percent of the economy. This is followed by education, healthcare, manufacturing, government administration, business and professional services, transportation and warehousing, agribusiness and construction.
Summit Health, the Letterkenny Army Depot and the Chambersburg Area School District are three of the top employers. The depot is one of two places in the world where the Patriot missile defense system is refurbished and recalibrated. Franklin County is home to many manufacturers including the Manitowoc Crane Group/Grove Crane, Volvo Construction Equipment and Martin’s Famous Pastry Shoppe, Inc.
In the past year, the Manitowoc Crane Group announced it would move the bulk of its crane production to the community of Shady Grove, with 250 manufacturing positions to be relocated from Wisconsin to Franklin County. And commercial equipment manufacturer JLG Industries announced that it would be closing its operation in Ohio and moving 200 jobs to Franklin County, indicating a positive manufacturing outlook for the area.
Admittedly, growth also comes with challenges such as housing. Yet, according to FCADC President Ross, these are “good challenges to have. We have a lot of housing being built right now, but we need more affordable housing, and we recognize that,” he says. “That is development we are trying to attract and stimulate on a lot of different levels.”
Since Pennsylvania does not tax retirement income, Franklin County is becoming a haven for retirees, especially those currently working in the Washington, DC area. “When they retire, they will often move to Franklin County, Adams County – which is Gettysburg – or York County and relocate into housing developments.” As a result, local retirement communities have grown, as has the need for expanded medical services as these retirees age.
“Folks who are moving here are highly educated – typically with disposable income – and contribute to the community in different ways through volunteerism and community engagement.”
The FCADC is converting a former school in downtown Chambersburg – the county seat – to loft-style housing and office space as part of $100 million of investment going into the downtown core in the next three to five years. The community looks forward to a combination of redevelopment and new development in Chambersburg.
Soon, the county will welcome Herbruck’s Poultry Ranch, which at this stage will consist of a massive facility of eight poultry houses with a capacity for 2.4 million hens. The project is expected to create 190 jobs and will see $100 million in direct investment.
“Our goals are to continue to build on what we’ve been doing, and we have some projects that we think will absolutely come to fruition next year. We are very fortunate to be a good place at a good time and as such, we are doing everything possible to maximize our opportunities.”