Mark Twain was right – no one is making any new land. He probably had no idea there would be a shortage of developable land around the historically rural Lancaster County. Two recent programs of the Lancaster County Commercial and Industrial Real Estate Council (Lancaster C&I) highlighted this problem and showed one possible solution to the shortage of available developable land: changing how you use the land you already have.
Lancaster C&I, along with the Greater Harrisburg Association of Realtors, the Realtors Association of York and Adams Counties, and the Lebanon County Association of Realtors, recently held the 2022 Industrial, Commercial and Investment Regional Conference in Harrisburg. My favorite portion of the event was a panel discussion with Lisa Riggs of the Economic Development Company of Lancaster County, Ryan Unger of the Harrisburg Regional Chamber, Susan Eberly of the Lebanon Valley Economic Development Company, and Kevin Schreiber of the York County Economic Alliance.
The panelists discussed the gains in and challenges of helping economic growth in the region. They all had very similar concerns. Riggs outlined the problem very clearly, harkening back to the classical definitions of factors of production. She pointed out that for economic growth to occur, four things are necessary:
The Trouble with Land & Labor
The panelists agreed that the first two factors – land and labor – are problems. There is not available land here to meet the demand for apartments, warehouses, light industrial expansions, agricultural processing and many similar uses.
There are also not enough people entering the workforce. In the coming years, Lancaster County will not have enough workers to replace the current workforce. It will be tough for any business to expand if it needs to increase its personnel.
If there is no more land and no more workers, then the key is to get more out of the land and workers that we already have.
Increasing Efficiency Instead of Personnel
On the people part of the equation, I have heard Riggs say a number of times that instead of celebrating a new facility with a ribbon cutting, the local Chambers of Commerce should celebrate when a company buys a new computer system or piece of equipment that is more efficient. This is the way to leverage a shrinking number of workers into more production.
While continuing to encourage economic growth by building your business size may no longer make sense, it will likely take a shift in attitudes to get the business community to praise these physically smaller improvements with the same fanfare they’d give to an awe-inspiring new building.
Repurposing Case Study: Southern Market, Lancaster City
The June Lancaster C&I meeting at the Lancaster Southern Market highlighted the building as an example of an innovative way to solve the land problem: repurposing existing spaces.
In the 1990s and 2000s, the Southern Market was a beautiful, historic and very underutilized building. Today, it is an amazing space. It has a food hall with a huge bar on the first floor and offices on the second. The food hall serves an important public purpose: as an incubator for new restaurants and caterers. It gives them a place to start their businesses and develop a following before striking out on their own.
The new Southern Market is a great example of strength in numbers. It might be difficult to draw people to a Moroccan restaurant on its own. But put a Moroccan restaurant next to a soul food restaurant, a pizza spot, a Caribbean restaurant and other cuisines, and all of a sudden — you have a destination.
This argument integrates with other business trends as well, like the interest in environmental sustainability and adapting existing structures to earn LEED certification.
The Southern Market is a great example of not needing more land if we can just make better use of what we already have. And it is just one example of what the local Chambers and EDCs are working hard to promote in the region.