CORAL — When Homer City-area officials look to the north, they often see their Indiana-area counterparts celebrating the beginning of one local economic development project or another, quite often supported by thousands of dollars in state aid.
And when Homer City-area officials look to the south, they often see their Blairsville-area counterparts celebrating the beginning of one local economic development project or another, quite often supported by thousands of dollars in state aid.
But when they look around their own area, they’ve seen no such thing in recent years.
On Wednesday, officials formally broke ground on a 27.5-acre industrial park in Center Township. Called the Joseph Land Development, or the 119 Business Park, it sits on a hill above the northbound lanes of Route 119.
The Indiana County Development Corp. acquired the property in 2011, paying $400,000, or $14,545 per acre.
Jim Wiley, the development corporation’s president, told the elected officials, business leaders and other officials who attended the groundbreaking ceremony that the park represents another step forward in making Indiana County a place where businesses will want to set up shop.
“With the development of (routes) 22 and 119, with the Windy Ridge project going in in Indiana and the Corporate Campus in Blairsville, I think that now we are positioned to be able to sustain and support commerce and industry across the breadth of our county,” Wiley said.
The development corporation is building the park on spec, meaning they are developing it without having lined up anyone in particular ready to acquire space in the park. But it’s a business-development strategy county officials have been following for years, arguing that for Indiana County to attract new businesses, it needs to have “pad-ready” sites to market.
Without them, the worry is that the county could lose businesses searching for a home to competing counties that already have the space to offer.
Center Township Supervisor Bob Pozik, who also spoke at the groundbreaking, said he is confident the businesses will eventually come, given the park’s location and its access to public utilities.
“I just can’t see why this won’t work,” he said.
Byron Stauffer, executive director of the Indiana County Office of Planning and Development, said out-of-county real estate agents already have looked at the property.
“We’re waiting on some decisions,” he said.
Stauffer said he thinks the park’s location, along a four-lane highway and between the Halliburton facility to the north and the Nabors yard to the south, makes it an ideal spot for someone in the natural gas business.
The project is being paid for by a $300,000 federal grant through the Appalachian Regional Commission and a $750,000 state grant through the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program.
State Rep. Dave Reed, R-Indiana, and a Homer-Center High School graduate, is largely being credited with finding the money that made the project possible. In his remarks, Reed said the project has been a long time coming, dating to the tenure of the late Bernie Smith, who served as a county commissioner from 1995 until his death in 2006.
“The goal is very simple: we wanted to find a way to help connect Homer City/Center Township to the development that’s already occurring in Blairsville/Burrell Township and Indiana/White Township,” Reed said. “With Route 22 being completed and Route 119 being completed the whole way to Pittsburgh, we wanted to make sure Homer City/Center Township didn’t get left behind. We see this as a very encouraging beginning.”
A. Merante Contracting Inc., of Pittsburgh, is the contractor on the project. Under a $677,777 agreement with the county, it will be grading the site, roughing out the access roads and extending utilities to the site.
Most of the work is to be completed this fall, with the finishing touches to come next spring. Stauffer said the park falls under an economic development program that abates taxes for up to 10 years. The clock hasn’t started to run on the program, so the development corporation is paying the real estate tax on the site.