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Philipsburg area moves towards revitalization

Philipsburg has suffered economic distress for decades. The economy of the area had been based on resource extraction (coal mining) and garment and cigar manufacturing. Then in the mid-1980s, each of these industries closed, putting thousands out of work.

But two organizations are planning revitalization for both the downtown and industrial parks in the surrounding area.

Philipsburg area moves towards revitalization

By Elizabeth Timberlake-Newell

Philipsburg has suffered economic distress for decades. The economy of the area had been based on resource extraction (coal mining) and garment and cigar manufacturing. Then in the mid-1980s, each of these industries closed, putting thousands out of work.

But two organizations are planning revitalization for both the downtown and industrial parks in the surrounding area.

The Philipsburg Revitalization Corporation (PRC) and the Moshannon Valley Economic Development Partnership (MVEDP) have enacted separate but related programs to achieve the goal of making Philipsburg a more attractive community in which to live.

The MVEDP

According to Stan LaFuria, Executive Director of the MVEDP, the way to revitalize Philipsburg was not just to concentrate on the borough, but to “work for the region.”

The MVEDP was founded in 1988 to do just that; it was an outcome of the merger between the Philipsburg Chamber of Commerce and the Philipsburg Association of Commerce. The organization’s staff strive to work with entrepreneurs to help them start new businesses, work with existing businesses in the area, and work to attract outside businesses to the area.

Thus far, the MVEDP has had some success. In 1996, the Drucker Company, a centrifuge manufacturer, moved all of its administrative functions and manufacturing operations to Port matilda. Drucker employs 50 people. A Wal-Mart distribution center was established in nearby Woodland, Pa. in Clearfield County, and this location employs 1000 people. The cigar making plant was also repurposed.

“The first major asset [of the MVEDP] was this building [the cigar plant],” said LaFuria of the old plant that now houses the offices of the MVEDP, among other businesses. “The MVEDP converted the cigar manufacturing plant to a multi-tenant incubator building.”

The U.S. Department of Commerce, said LaFuria, provided a one million dollar grant to convert the cigar manufacturing plant.

Not all of the MVEDP’s efforts are focused on businesses. Part of the overall community improvement effort is focused on providing loans to rehabilitate housing in the areas surrounding Philipsburg. Currently, housing rehabilitation loans are available to make improvements such as plumbing, structural soundness, sanitary conditions and energy conservation.

“We started with a $176,000 grant for a small area,” said LaFuria about the state grant to the MVEDP. “Now we’re close to 2.5 million dollars with eight different grants for Philipsburg, Rush township, South Philipsburg, and six municipalities in Clearfield County. We’ve done close to 150 homes now.”

But the MVEDP has faced a major challenge in finding a means of dealing with the gap left behind by the closure and abandonment of the Philipsburg Hospital in 2006. The facility sits on 15 acres of land, and if torn down it could be used for housing and a public park, or developed commercially, according to LaFuria.

The MVEDP as of yet has no long term plan for economic development of the region.

“It’s not something that is going to happen overnight,” said LaFuria. “It’s a long-term progression—hire professionals, work with the elected officials, build relationships. We are now developing strategic plans for the first time. What we’ve done all these years is to have an annual plan where we identify a key focus for the year.”

The MVEDP’s revitalization plan also hinges on natural gas extraction companies. But the current cost of extracting natural gas exceeds the price it commands, thus, drilling companies have been moving out of Pennsylvania. LaFuria admits that this is a conundrum for the drilling industry, but believes that it will not affect the Moshannon Valley’s economy.