Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Economic Development Committee

Shire Considers Other Options to Chesterbrook . . . Please don’t leave!

The struggles with vacant corporate buildings and empty storefronts are no different in Tredyffrin Township than other parts of the region and across the country. In Tredyffrin, we have come to depend on a few of our corporate friends, those companies that have stepped up and helped the community over and over again.

One of those supportive, community-spirited corporate companies is Shire, an international pharmaceutical company whose headquarters are in Chesterbrook Corporate Center. Shire was instrumental in supporting the Wilson Farm Park opening, Tredyffrin 300 celebration, the annual summer concert program, etc. The list goes on and on with their community involvement to our township.

So it was very unsettling to read in the Daily Local the headlines ‘Shire considers alternatives to Chesterbrook’. Shire employs 1,100 in their corporate headquarters in Chesterbrook and leases four buildings from Liberty Property Trust, Pitcairn and Wells REIT. Shire currently leases 400,000 – 450,000 of office space in Tredyffrin. The company is in the early discussion stage on whether they should stay in Chesterbrook or find new headquarters when the first of their leases expires in 2016. Shire re-located to Chesterbrook in 2004 and signed an initial 12-year lease for their building.

The pharmaceutical giant has its global headquarter in Dublin, Ireland but according to the article; the company is committed to staying in the Philadelphia area. A representative for the company dismissed the suggestion that exploring other locations could be an attempt to “start a bidding war between competing states that would result in it receiving more government incentives.”

At this point, maybe the idea that Shire is ‘just looking’ at other options should not be reason for alarm or concern. Certainly Shire, like any company has to look at what makes good business sense. But reading this article, made me again think about the township’s Economic Development Committee – here is a case where this committee needs to move forward. I would suggest a proactive approach with Shire. Not only do Shire and its employees contribute greatly to the local economy through corporate building leases, real estate purchases by employees, etc., I would bet that this company has contributed more financially to the community through their generous sponsorships than other company in the township.

I suggest there needs to be a real push and incentive to have Shire keep its headquarters in Chesterbrook.

Economic Development Committee . . . where are you? Wouldn’t this be the time to reach out to Shire?

Tredyffrin Township Needs an Economic ‘Call for Action’ From its Elected Officials

Nearly 6 months ago on February 2, 2011, I wrote a post called, Another Store Closing in Tredyffrin . . . A Suggestion for a Business Task Force’. The post detailed another store closing its doors; at the time, it was Tuesday Morning. This post was written immediately following the supervisor interviews for the appointment of an interim supervisor (to fill vacated Warren Kampf’s seat). One of the reasons I wrote the post was that I was struck by the fact that in the interview process, all the supervisor candidates listed economic development as one of the most important issues facing the township. Here is an excerpt from the February 3, 2011 post on Community Matters:

In light of the many empty storefronts in the township, the supervisors listed attracting new businesses at the top of the challenge list. I agree that encouraging new business growth is essential but equally important, is how can we support the businesses that we have?

I wonder if a township business task force would help . . . a volunteer group of local retired executives, small business owners, and corporate representatives. The group would meet monthly with a mission to spearhead ways to improve existing relationships and provide assistance and a resource for township businesses. This important support group for the business community could provide regular updates and suggestions to the Board of Supervisors. Just an idea . . .

Subsequent to this post, I had further discussions with several of the township supervisors on the creation of a task force to help our small businesses and to encourage new corporate business development in the township. At the April 4, 2011 Board of Supervisors meeting, supervisor Phil Donahue made a motion for an ‘Economic Development Committee’, which would include himself and supervisors Michelle Kichline and Mike Heaberg. The motion was seconded by supervisor Paul Olson and passed unanimously. Here are the relevant township minutes from the supervisors meeting which detailed the committee:

Mr. Donahue made a motion to form an Economic Development Committee, to pull together information, gather facts, and begin a dialog putting our best foot forward and creating the right environment for Tredyffrin. Mr. Olson seconded the motion.

Ms. Kichline said she, Mr. Donahue and Mr. Heaberg would recruit members of the business community and surrounding regions to serve on the committee, which would advise the entire Board on the role and scope for where we want to go with large and small businesses. Mr. Heaberg said we are looking for creative strategic thinkers in the community.

Resident Carlotta Johnston-Pugh said she didn’t see a lot of diversity in the community and thought this would bring more companies to the Township as well as residents. Mr. Donahue said the first step will be having an opportunity to discuss ideas like that with residents. At the end of discussion, motion passed.

It has been 4 months since the supervisors passed the motion to create the Economic Development Committee. I attend all the supervisors meetings and in checking meeting minutes, I could find no further reference to this committee. Understanding that there may be ‘behind the scenes’ movement on the Economic Development Committee my supervisors, I would still ask what is the status of the committee? Besides supervisors Donohue, Kichline and Heaberg, who are the members of the committee? How often do they meet and what is their mission?

In my early discussions with supervisors, I had suggested that the committee needed to include a balance of small business owners, corporate representatives and interested members of the community. As a small business owner and former member of the Paoli Business & Professional Association Board of Directors, like many other residents, I have a stake in the development and encouragement of our business community. As is the case in many parts of this country, we have seen little improvement in our economic climate and our community needs a grassroots effort to help our businesses succeed and to encourage new growth and development.

I was prompted to write today’s post by an article in the Philadelphia Business Journal, . Newtown Borough in Bucks County is looking at various ways to help their struggling businesses and will hold a roundtable discussion to brainstorm ideas. Council members in Newtown are optimistic that the roundtable will open up communication between the residents, business owners and elected officials. I was optimistic that Tredyffrin’s Economic Development Committee would provide a similar type of forum for our community that would include residents, corporate representatives and small business owners in the discussion.

It is so disheartening to hear of more and more businesses failing – leaving empty office buildings and storefronts in the wake. In addition to an update on the Economic Development Committee, I would also like a status report on the Paoli Transportation Center. A few weeks ago, I wrote of the train station and was given the impression from our State Rep Warren Kampf, Willistown, and Tredyffrin township supervisors that the transportation center remains a priority. If the project is a priority, I believe that the community should expect an update.

Economic development in Tredyffrin Township needs to be more than political campaign promises . . . the decline of our business community is a serious issue and we need help to stabilize and save our community. Should we hold our elected officials accountable? Or, . . . do you think that the severity of the economic situation is beyond the scope of township supervisors? Can local officials make a difference with our local economic climate? My answer to the last question — is that they need to try.

With last week’s unexpected closing of Jake’s Frozen Custard in Paoli after only 10 months, I was again reminded of the fragileness of our economic environment. Our elected officials – local and state – need to help save our existing small businesses and encourage development and growth of new business in the township. These are not passing problems that somehow time will magically erase. Previously, I volunteered to serve on the Economic Development Committee and I am confident I could get many more to help – we just need direction.

The next Board of Supervisors meeting is on Monday, August 15. I am sending a copy of this post to our township supervisors and State Representative requesting that the community receive an update on the Paoli Transportation Center project and on the township’s Economic Development Committee. I am asking for an economic ‘call for action’ from our elected officials.

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